Thursday, June 18, 2015, 6:11 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song, “Songs in the Night.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read 1 Thessalonians 1 (ESV). Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. In Our Prayers Lately, whenever I read Paul’s letters to the churches, and I read how he and the other apostles continually remembered these local churches in their prayers, it speaks conviction to my heart. Paul and the other apostles worked hard in preaching the gospel, and some of them had to work secular jobs, too, at times, in order to support themselves. As well, they were, or at least Paul was frequently arrested and put in prison for their testimonies for Jesus Christ and for his gospel. And, he wrote letters to the churches, too, and ministered to people even when he was in prison. He and the other apostles went through many hardships and persecutions for preaching the gospel of our salvation and for their faith in Jesus Christ, and yet they made it a priority in their lives to still continually remember in prayer these specific churches and their particular situations. So, although this is not an area of my life that is devoid, this is an area in my life that needs improvement. I need to pray more often and more specifically for individual people and for individual church fellowships of which I am aware, and I need to believe God for miracles in the lives of these individuals, and in the lives of these church congregations. How about you? Do you identify? With Full Conviction Paul and his fellow ministers of the gospel of Christ (and/or the other apostles) were included in the “we” when he said that they gave thanks to God for these believers in Jesus Christ. He thanked God for their “work of faith” and “labor of love” and for their “steadfastness of hope” in Jesus Christ. So many professing Christians these days look at “faith” as just some decision they made once to “receive” Christ, and which, to them, means they have been forgiven of their sins, they have been delivered from eternity in hell, and they now have the hope of heaven when they die. Although most certainly genuine faith in Jesus Christ, by God’s grace, gives us forgiveness of sins, deliverance from hell (the wrath to come), and it promises us heaven, this is not the totality of what our faith should be all about or the entirety of what our faith should look like. James stated it well when he said that “faith without works is dead.” The Bible teaches faith in terms of us having died with Christ to sin, and of us having been resurrected with Christ to new lives in Christ Jesus to be lived out in his righteousness and holiness. Jesus died that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. He died that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. He died that we might no longer live for ourselves, but for him who gave himself up for us. This is our “work of faith,” i.e. it is faith put into action in our lives. It involves us walking in fellowship with our Lord, listening to him speak his words to our hearts, and then responding in faith and obedience to what he teaches us. This is our “labor of love,” for we obey him because we love him. The Bible, as well, makes many references to faith as being continuous, steadfast and persistent. The apostles acknowledged that these believers were chosen by God, for they didn’t just listen with their ears when the apostles preached the gospel, but they responded to the message they had heard, spoken in the power of the Spirit, with full conviction of heart, both in conviction of sin and with conviction in the sense of full persuasion and confidence that what the apostles were preaching was the truth. I believe too many people today see “faith” as more like a “yeah, sure, that sounds good; yeah, I would like to escape hell and go to heaven when I die, so I am in.” Yet, faith is not like that. Full conviction means we are sold on Christ, humbled, changed in heart and mind, and on board with God and his word in whatever he has for us from this moment forward. We want to please God and no longer live to please ourselves. I am not speaking of sinless perfection here, but what I am saying is that “full conviction” does not translate into free license to continue in sin. It means we die with Christ to sin so we can walk with Christ in his righteousness and holiness. Imitators of God The apostles proved to be godly examples to the believers in how they should conduct their lives, and the believers, in turn, became imitators of the apostles and of the Lord Jesus. This kind of “imitation” is not the fake kind, or the mocking kind, or the kind used for entertainment purposes, but rather it has to do with following the godly example of others, which, in this case, involved the believers in Jesus becoming Christ-like in their thoughts, words, attitudes and behaviors. Yet, if we are to emulate (imitate) Jesus Christ in thought, attitude, word and deed, we need to know Jesus Christ. So many people are teaching a false Jesus in the church today and, thus, people are following this false Jesus, and this false gospel. So, if we are to be true imitators of Christ, we need to make sure we are following the Jesus of scripture, and not the Jesus as created in the minds of humans. In other words, Jesus was not a friend (buddy) of sinners. He didn’t “hang out” with sinful human beings, doing what they did, and having a good time with them. He didn’t become one with the world in order to win the world. He wasn’t a “good ole Joe.” He wasn’t like everyone else. He didn’t blend in with society. He didn’t immerse (occupy, engross) himself in his culture (in worldly philosophy, activities, values and beliefs). He didn’t just go around doing good deeds all the time, and his mission was not about making everyone feel good about themselves. His message was not one of social justice, in today’s terminology, and of just being kind-hearted, loving and forgiving towards others. If he was so “nice” all the time, then why did so many hate him? Why did they hang him on a tree? They killed him because he confronted them with their sins; because he told them the truth about their sinful condition, and about their eternal destiny. They hated him because he wasn’t like them, and he didn’t do the things they did. He was different, and they despised him for it. So, if we are going to be imitators of Jesus Christ, we need to learn who he really was and is, and be like that. Jesus was/is kind, loving, compassionate, tender, generous, concerned, forgiving, nurturing, comforting, and assuring. Yet, he never compromised the truth, he didn’t blend in to be accepted, and in his love and kindness, he considered what people really needed instead of what they wanted. He knew what was best for them, and so he considered their real needs, and what was in their best interest, above his own comfort, acceptance, life and reputation. He spoke the truth in love, even when it hurt others, and even if it got him hated and killed in return, because that is how much he loves humans. He had a hard message that many were not willing to accept. He said we have to die with him to sin if we want to live with him in glory. He cared about doing what was right, not about what was popular. He cared about the salvation of souls, not about being accepted. If we want to be imitators of Christ, we need to be setting godly examples for others to emulate. We need to be sharing the gospel of salvation with the world around us so that others can be saved, and we need to be walking the talk and not just talking the walk. We need to turn from our idols, and serve God with our lives instead of serving the things of this sinful world with our time, affections and attention. An idol can be anything that is sinful in itself, or something which replaces God in our hearts, affections, passions, loyalty, devotion and attention. We cannot be imitators of God if we are giving ourselves over to the flesh, and to serving (bowing and/or enslaved to) our idols, whether they be TV, movies, the internet, sports, careers, knowledge, people, books, possessions, our reputations, and even ministry, and the like. God wants to have our hearts, minds, attitudes, behaviors and activities submitted (surrendered) to him, and us willing to obey him in all things. Songs in the Night / An Original Work / December 18, 2013 “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, And the other prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:25 NIV ‘84 Lord, I praise You forevermore. You, my Savior, I now adore. Hope in heaven awaiting me, Because You died at Calvary. I have been forgiven, And I’m bound for heaven. Jesus set me free from All my sin, I say. I will praise Him always! Lord, I love You for all You’ve done: Overcame death, my vict’ry won! Jesus saved me, and now I’m free! I rejoice in His love for me. I will walk in vict’ry! My sin is but hist’ry! I am free to please Him With my life today. I will love Him always! Lord, I thank You for giving me A new life bought at Calvary. Loving Jesus, I meet with Him. Tender mercies now flow within. Lord, I am so thankful; Through my Lord, I’m able To sit at His table; Fellowship with Him. I will thank Him always!