Sunday, 2 November 2008

Bodily discipleship

In many ways our view of the body as Christians tends towards being pretty secular. There is almost a separation between the body and God. It belongs to a separate realm from our 'spiritual lives'. We can almost feel that our bodies have little to do with our relationship with God, which belongs to invisible 'spiritual' things. So, for example, to name three possible secularizing beliefs about our bodies....

1. we are going to 'heaven' where our spirits will get released from this mortal body.

2. what we do with our body is unimportant when it comes to prayer or worship.

3. our body is spiritually important only when we commit gross sin with it

But, take for example, 1 Cor 6:12f. Here we get a very strong passage on the value of the body and the need to disciple our bodies - as we would our hearts, minds etc. From Paul we learn in this passage that:

1. The Lord is for the body (isn't that amazing!)
2. The body is the dwelling place of the Spirit and Christ.
3. The body will be raised from the dead (not be left behind in a spiritualized heaven)
4. The body is to be used for the glory of God (now that is big!).

There's lots here, but taking simply the last point I'm forced to see that how I use my body is a vital part of discipleship. This is not simply in terms of the avoidance of gross sin but in terms of glorifying God with my body. It's a striking question to ask myself: how can I glorify God with my body today? What things can I do in my body to honour God? So quickly, we think of abstinence and saying 'no' to things, but that reduces glorifying God to 'sin-avoidance'. Surely, much more is needed here. It means a positive, active honouring of God with my body. What does it mean to be a disciple in my body?

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Prosperity teaching and Mission

Piper has an excellent and challenging sermon here on the complete contradiction between the prosperity gospel and gospel-centred mission.

Here are some excerpts...

"At the heart of true biblical missions is the willingness to die to the cravings that prosperity preachers exploit. At the heart of true biblical missions (both for the goers and the senders) is an eagerness to live simply and give lavishly. At the heart of true biblical missions is suffering, not merely as a result of proclamation, but also as a means of proclamation—a means of making the saving sufferings of Christ known to the world. As Joseph Tson says, “Christ’s sufferings are for propitiation; our sufferings are for propagation.....”

".....Of course, contrary to what the Prosperity Gospel teaches, wealth is not usually a blessing. It is usually a curse. Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25). Wealth is a mortal danger for those who have it. It does not make us generous and humble. It makes us buy more stuff, and it numbs our conscience because we have to blind ourselves to our inconsistencies with the Calvary road.

Paul said to the prosperity preachers of his day, “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).

No, it isn’t for lack of money that there are 1,568 peoples with no missionaries. It’s because we have so much. The comforts of the West have made us soft and cautious and fearful and indulgent and self-protecting, instead of tough and risk-taking and bold and self-controlled and self-sacrificing. When prosperity preachers fly their personal jets to the Two-thirds World and promise the poor that if they believe in Jesus, they will get rich, they are not doing Christian missions. They are destroying its foundations. That is not the gospel that saves and produces sacrifice...."

Contemplation of death

The Scriptures remind us regularly of the shortness and fragility of life...

Ecclesiastes 3:18-20 "I also thought, "As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Man's fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath [b] ; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return."

Isaiah 40:6-8: 'A voice says, "Cry out." And I said, "What shall I cry?"

"All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever."'

James 4:14 "What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes."

It would seem that wisdom is about knowing that death is around the corner and that my life is quickly over. In that case, it would make a lot of sense for me to contemplate my death and all that it means for my life now. We live so much of our lives ignoring death as if we think we'll continue like this forever. Biblically speaking, that's unhealthy. It is too small a view of things. It's too narrow. It's a morbid fascination with life now. It certainly can't help us in our battle against sin and for holiness. And it can't help us develop the right eternal priorities.

John Newton quotes the words of a dying Christian woman to him in this way: " 'Sir, you are highly favoured in being called to preach the gospel. I have often heard you with pleasure; but give me leave to tell you, that I now see all you have said, or can say, is comparatively but little. Nor, till you come into my situation, and have death and eternity full in your view, will it be possible for you to conceive tha vast weight and importance of the truths you declare. O, Sir, it is a serious thing to die; no words can express what is needful to support the soul in the solemnity of a dying hour.'"

Newton himself concludes a few paragraphs on, " I thought likewise how many things are there that now give us pleasure or pain, and assume a mighty importance in our view, which, in a dying hour, will be no more to us than the clouds which fly unnoticed over our heads. Then the truth of our Lord's aphorism will be seen, felt and acknowledged, "One thing is needful."'

Indeed. Contemplating my own death and mortality has got to have an invigorating effect on my Christian life. It helps me see the difference between passing clouds and what is truly important. Let's not be morbidly preoccupied with life.