In this series, I have been painting a picture of what a healthy, growing Christian looks like. At the center of spiritual health is the commitment to the ordinary means of grace offered in the weekly worship of the church. This habit is supplemented by personal commitments to the Word, prayer, and body fellowship throughout the week. I want to focus on this commitment to body fellowship today. Our relationship with the church, the body of Christ, is a vital component to being a healthy, growing Christian. When I think of the church community, and the responsibilities and needs of individual followers of Christ, two Scripture passages always stand out as the most influential. Of course there are many passages that speak to the nature and responsibilities of the Christian community, but these two, in my estimation, lay the essential groundwork. They are Romans 12, which speaks about our interconnectedness as believers, and Hebrews 3, which speaks about our need for the community to persevere in faith. Let’s look at these in turn. Romans 12 paints a picture that Christians are interconnected to one another. This chapter is known for the transition from theology to practical application in Paul’s letter to the Roman church. It is in view of the mercies (12:1) and grace (12:3) of God that we live differently. Paul’s attention is on the body. He says, “We are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (v. 5). This awkward phrase, “members one of another,” is a significant descriptor of Christians. In Christ, God has knit believers together in a unique relationship. We are interconnected because of our faith in Christ. In the rest of the chapter, Paul fleshes out what this interconnected relationship looks like. We serve one another with our gifts (v. 6), we love one another with brotherly affection (v. 10), we contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality (v. 13), we rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep (v. 15), and we live in harmony with one another (v. 16). ... Keep Reading

In Luke 18:1, the gospel writer tells us that Jesus “told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” If only we had such a clear statement of the purpose for every parable! In this parable, we hear of a widow pestering an unjust judge for justice. The judge eventually gives in because of the widow’s persistence. Jesus compares God to the unjust judge. If such an unrighteous man is swayed by persistent requests, how much more will a loving, gracious, patient God respond to persist prayer? This call to persistent prayer is repeated in Paul’s letters. We are to be “praying at all times in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18), “continue steadfastly in prayer” (Col. 4:2), and “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17). Can any of us claim to be steadfast in prayer? Do we pray without ceasing? Of course, these commands do not mean that we need to be kneeling, eyes closed, hands folded, all day, every day in order to “pray without ceasing.” They speak about a posture of our hearts, priorities of our thinking, and the humble esteem of our abilities. As one has said, prayer is like breathing to a Christian, it constantly happens, sustaining our life, even if we are not fully conscience of it.... Keep Reading

The past few weeks we have been considering what contributes to a healthy, growing Christian. First and foremost is a commitment to the ordinary means of grace. We are to seek the ministry of Word, Sacrament, and prayer on a regular basis with humility, longing, and diligent effort. Like a well-spring of blessings, the ordinary means of grace sustain Christians abundantly. They are the fountainhead. Everything else in Christian growth and maturity flow from them. Consider this graphic. With it I am aiming to illustrate the commitments of a healthy, growing Christian. In the center, as the fountainhead, is that commitment to the ordinary means of grace. Everything flows from there. The middle circle represents the personal commitments made by growing, healthy Christians throughout the week. The ordinary means of grace, celebrated and received in the weekly gathering of the church on Sundays, are essential. For healthy and vibrant Christian living, however, there needs to be further commitment to these means of grace throughout the week. The Sunday gathering feeds into and invigorates the personal pursuit Monday through Saturday.... Keep Reading

ast week I said a healthy, growing follower of Jesus Christ is, first and foremost, committed to the ordinary means of grace. Everything else a healthy follower of Christ may be or do flows out from being a recipient of God’s grace through these means. Before we unpack what a healthy follower of Christ does, let me focus on that word “recipient.” What does it mean to be a recipient of God’s grace? What is the posture of a recipient of God’s grace? How should we approach the ordinary means of grace on Sunday mornings? First, humility is essential to be a recipient of God’s grace. James 4:6 says, “God gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” God gives his grace to those who recognize their desperate dependence on his grace. This involves an honest assessment of one’s sinfulness. No one can be holy enough to earn God’s grace (cf. Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:16). This also involves an honest assessment of one’s gifts, abilities, social status, etc. (cf. Rom. 12:3). “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7; cf. James 1:17). To receive God’s grace, we must come with a posture of humility, recognizing we are empty-handed beggars. ... Keep Reading

Commitment to the Ordinary Means of Grace What does it look like to be a healthy, growing follower of Jesus Christ? Is it activity? Habits? Character? How one lives? Where one lives? What comes to your mind when you think of Christian health and maturity? Whatever comes to mind, at the heart of Christian health must be Christ. There is no health, nor maturity, apart from Christ. Jesus says, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). The apostle Peter’s final, summarizing exhortation is “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). To abide in Christ is to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Christ is the center and source of all that sustains and enables spiritual life and growth. How do we abide in Christ? ... Keep Reading

In, But Not Of; Not Out of, But Into

January 27, 2022 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Christians continue to debate what is our relationship with the “world.” Perhaps you have heard the statement that “Christians are in the world but not of the world.” As Scriptural as that phrase is, there still are multiple ways to interpret and apply that statement. The words come from Jesus’ High Priestly prayer in John 17. As with many debates today, it boils down to how we define the terms. Let me touch on some of these matters as a teaser for the sermon on Sunday. We must start with a definition of “world.” This is tricky, because John uses the Greek word, kosmos, in several different contexts with different meanings. Let me highlight three meanings; I believe John makes use of all three meanings in the High Priestly prayer. World #1 = the total mass of humanity made in the image of God. This is the clearest meaning in John 3:16 and 8:12. “For God so loved the world…” “I am the light of the world…” This undergirds the sanctity of all human life, regardless of ethnicity, language, nationality, socio-economic status, etc. World #2 = the physical realm in which we live. Jesus speaks about doing activity while in the world. For example, in healing the blind man, he says, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (9:5; note that these first two meanings are used in this one verse). The world is a place. World #3 = the system of rebellion against God and his ways. Jesus says in 15:18, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” This system works against God and all those who seek to be faithful to God. ... Keep Reading

God’s Covenant with God

January 20, 2022 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

What was God doing before he “made the heavens and the earth”? I must acknowledge right up front that there is a danger in asking such a question. In one sense, this question imposes on God creaturely limitation, as if he is subject to time progression. J.I. Packer explains, “God is limited neither by space (he is everywhere in his fullness continually) nor by time (there is no ‘present moment’ into which he is locked as we are). Theologians refer to God’s freedom from limits and bounds as his infinity, his immensity, and his transcendence. As he upholds everything in being, so he has everything everywhere always before his mind, in its own relation to his all-inclusive plan and purpose for every item and every person in his world” (Concise Theology, page 28). Therefore, the word “before” cannot speak about time sequence for God. But the Bible uses this word, “before,” in several places. Consider these: ... Keep Reading

Communion as Body Fellowship

January 13, 2022 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Communion is gift from God. It is a means of grace wherein “worthy receivers are, by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace” (WSC #96). When we think of “all his benefits,” we most frequently think of that which benefits our relationship with God. This is appropriate, because the atoning sacrifice of Christ secures for us forgiveness of sins, adoption as children of God, and newness of life. The benefits of Christ’s death are not only vertical, so to speak. There is a horizontal benefit in the death of Christ, which is showed forth in communion as well. Paul speaks about this horizontal work of Christ in Ephesians 2. He says in verses 14-16, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” The “dividing wall of hostility” was erected between Jews and Gentiles. But the division is a reality between all humans, rooted in selfish pride. Christ’s death on the cross tears down any such pride and unites people together in humble dependence upon his grace. ... Keep Reading

What is Idolatry?

January 6, 2022 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

When we hear of idolatry, we can easily conjure images of a statue of a bull or some other creature. The Golden Calf from Exodus 32 is a prime example of blatant idolatry. So, when the New Testament call us to “flee idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14) or “keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21), we may not even bat an eye at such a command; that’s not for our day and age; we’re not tempted to fall down in worship of a massive statue. Perhaps we need a better understanding of idolatry. Idolatry is resting in anything other than Christ for salvation. I use the Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 86 to help create this definition. The questions asks and answers, “What is faith in Jesus Christ? Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.” By defining idolatry in terms of rest for salvation, we bridge the cultural gap from the Old Testament to the modern day. To help us further in our understanding of idolatry, let me explain how salvation and idolatry relate. ... Keep Reading

Renewal for a New Year

December 30, 2021 | by: | 0 Comments

The last few years have not been short of difficulties and hardships. As we enter into a new year, some of us may be entering through the valley while others may be entering from the mountain heights of the previous year. It can be easy to feel tired regarding a new year even before it arrives. If you are like me, you may long for renewal. A renewal in strength and energy, a renewal in fractured relationships with loved ones, a renewal in your walk with the Lord, and the list goes on. For all those who long for renewal, read Isaiah 40:27-31: Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? 28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. 30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Two Brief Encouragements:... Keep Reading

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