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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

That Which Shapes Us

December 23, 2021 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

The end of the year is as good of time as any to take stock and evaluate the things in our lives. How am I using my time? Are there areas in my life that receive too much focus or are neglected? How are my relationships? What about my habits? And, most importantly, what is the state of my faith in and walk with Christ? This sort of evaluation leads to resolutions for changes. While the habit of New Year’s resolutions is not necessarily a biblical mandate, the principle behind a resolution is biblical. We are called to walk in a manner worthy of our calling (Eph. 4:1). Evaluation is needed to discover areas out of accord with a worthy manner. Even James says the Word of God is like a mirror to reveal areas of weakness. He condemns the one who looks into the mirror and walks away unchanged (Jms. 1:23-24). It is good to make resolutions like Paul makes in Galatians 2:20, “And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.” Can I encourage you to take stock and evaluate one, specific area of your life? What shapes you? What shapes your thinking, values, and choices? What has the greatest influence in your life? ... Keep Reading

The Two Identities

December 16, 2021 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Our culture is obsessed with identity. Whether it is race or gender or sexual orientation or political affiliation, identity markers have become the primary means to categorize people. Identity has become such an obsession that Carl Trueman, professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College, has said, “Identity politics is the new religion of the United States” (Identity Politics, Opium of the People). Trueman uses the “religion” language because of what people are longing for when they latch onto identity markers. He says, “For many it is the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering…The one thing that binds all identitarian groups together is the human experience of wanting to belong and yet finding no place in contemporary society. The family is a mess. Religious institutions lack authority. The nation state is no longer a source of unity... And yet that basic human need to belong persists, a need that is now being met by new identitarian communities.” The Bible does not use the word “identity” like the current culture, but it does address the concept. In fact, the Bible speaks about only two identities, regardless of ethnicity, religiosity, socio-economic status, or gender. According to the Bible, all people are either “in Adam” or “in Christ.” Either we are marked by the curse of sin or we are walking in the freedom of the children of God. Either we are in the domain of darkness or in the kingdom of the beloved Son. Either we are dead in our trespasses or we are alive together with Christ. ... Keep Reading

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