Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I recall a Christian friend in Scotland giving me a wee fridge magnet that just simply said, ‘the best things in life are not things”. I thought about that this past Tuesday when our ‘things’ arrived. It was a strangely emotional day – and much to give thanks for – not least the two Brazilian removal men who went above and beyond the call of duty in ensuring that all our furniture managed to get into the flat. Our three-piece suite would not fit in the lift – so they carried the couch, with a great deal of maneuvering, up seven floors.
It’s good to be sitting in the chairs we have sat in for years. It is true that we did take too much – but the kitchen utensils, photographs, clothes and various keepsakes are all reminders of home. Of course my books are also essential – and despite my lack of faith in my own ability to put up bookshelves – they are up – and they are filled with books. Physical books will never be replaced by Kindle!
So let me go to the motto – ‘the best things in life are not things’. I would want to change it. It sounds good. It sounds spiritual. It sounds as though it should be true – but it isn’t. Material things in and of themselves are neither good nor evil. The love of money and the things that money can buy is a root of all kinds of evil. But things can be an expression of love and a demonstration of the goodness of the Lord.
Imagine that you were married to someone and you never expressed your love in a tangible way – what would your partner think of you? What would it say about yourself? “Oh but, you know that I love you….you don’t need things”. Whilst it is true that things cannot buy us love, they can often express it. Paul’s advice to Timothy expresses the beautifully balanced biblical position, . “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (1 Timothy 6:17)
So whilst I know that things will not buy me happiness – I know that sometimes they cause happiness because they are vivid reminders of the goodness of the Lord. Which is why we give him thanks…even for the ‘wine that makes glad the heart of a man”. I would change the motto to ‘the best things in life are not just things”. Ultimately things can only be enjoyed in the light of the Love of our Heavenly Father. But they should be enjoyed.
Speaking of things we have been able to purchase a car. It’s not something that I imagined we would be able to do – or needed to do. But having borrowed one from a lovely Christian friend who really believes in koionia (sharing fellowship), we realised how useful it would be. Another Christian friend helped us by pointing us in the direction of a couple of Armenian garage mechanics (he didn’t know any Calvinist ones – they were all too busy making watches!). They sold us a 19-year Subaru with over 260,000 miles on the clock. The only way we could take that risk was because we trusted them. And the only way we trusted them was because of the witness of a friend…come see a man….
Mind you I was almost despairing at all the bureaucracy that we needed to go through to get it on the road – but eventually we got the blue slip, the green slip, the pink slip and the white slip – all of which cost us more than the car! It is already saving us money though – I have been able to drive down to Canberra today, rather than flying – which is prohibitively expensive.
It is strange driving here – not because things are wrong – but because they are different. Everything is new, so that what was instinctive back in Scotland, now has to be thought about and learned all over again. Sometimes that feels like when we go through a major change in life – we have to become adjusted to new realities, unlearn old habits and learn new ones.
One of the depressing things about life in Australia is the extent to which the disease of gambling has taken hold. A friend took me into a VIP lounge – which is really just a slot machine (they are called ‘pokies’ here) gambling den, where the drink is free and you are allowed to smoke. People sit there all day and pour thousands of dollars into these machines. I was told that there was one poorer suburb in Western Sydney that spent more than $7 billion in one year on these machines. When I think of people like Donald Trump making their money out of gambling it makes me feel ill. The really disappointing thing to hear was that the Sydney Opera House was built from the proceeds of gambling. I guess just as the fact that the pyramids were built with slave labour does not detract from their grandeur – so the building of the Opera House with the proceeds of exploiting the poor, does not take away from its grandeur…but it does leave a sour taste in the mouth.
I am currently in Canberra, waiting for the National Prayer Breakfast tomorrow, where the Prime Minister Scott Morrison will be speaking, and the leader of the opposition Anthony Albanese will be giving the Vote of Thanks. Can you imagine in the UK, Boris Johnson speaking and Jeremy Corbyn giving the Vote of Thanks, at the National Prayer Breakfast? No, me neither. In this respect Australia is a much healthier country than the UK.
I enjoyed preaching tonight in St Matthews Anglican Church, where the inimitable Ian Powell is the rector. It was, as always, encouraging to be with the Lord’s people and share in the blessings of the Gospel. Without it everything turns bitter in the mouth; with is even the sourest experiences can be turned into honey from the rock.
May the Lord bless you this week in all you say, do, hear, think, feel, touch and experience….
Yours in Christ