Tuesday, July 5, 2016, 7:24 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “Near the Cross.” 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 the Lord Jesus Paul, and his fellow laborers in the gospel, addressed this letter to the church of the Thessalonians. Now, this was not a church like we might think of as church today, especially here in America. Normally, when people inquire as to what “church” you attend, they are asking what building (edifice) you go to, or with what church denomination you are affiliated. It is a lot like club membership. Yet, what they are referring to is the institutional church, which is not the true church of Jesus Christ, although the true church does exist within the confines of the institutional church. So, some people may ask, “What is the difference?” Well, the institutional church is a human-based business which is incorporated (in America) under the federal government of the USA, and it is marketed and run just like any other human-based business. The US government is the head of this church, and the people who are members of this organization are subject to their rules. If they don’t follow the government’s rules, they could lose their not-for-profit tax exempt status, and would have to pay whatever consequences might come of that. Basically, the institutional church is a state-church (See: http://hushmoney.org/501c3-problems.htm - *not an endorsement of all article’s content). In contrast to the institutional church is the church in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This church is a living organism with Christ Jesus as its head. It is made up of true followers of Jesus Christ, across the globe, abiding in various locations. These are those who by faith and through the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives were crucified with Christ in death to sin, and were resurrected with Christ in newness of life, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). They are those who walk not after the flesh but who conduct their lives according to the Spirit, not in sinless perfection, but who by the Spirit are putting to death the deeds of the flesh, and are clothing themselves with Christ. Produced by Faith These followers of Jesus Christ are not those who make a profession of Jesus Christ only, and who live no different from the people of the world. They are also not those who think they can earn or deserve their own salvation via “good works.” They understand that they are saved from their sins only through Jesus’ death on a cross for our sins, and only through the power and working of the Holy Spirit in their lives in turning them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they could receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus Christ (See: Ac. 26:16-18). Yet, they also know that it is by faith that we are saved, and that faith is proved genuine by their obedience to Christ and to his Word, not in sinless perfection, but in a consistent walk in the Spirit and no longer according to the flesh (See: Ro. 8:1-14; 6:1-23; Lu. 9:23-25). Imitators of Christ An imitator can be one who pretends to be someone else, and/or who acts out the role of someone else for entertainment purposes. Yet, an imitator can also be one who is a follower of someone, i.e. someone who is guided by another and who obeys what that person tells him or her to do. The latter definition is the one which describes being an imitator of Christ. When we imitate Christ we follow his lead and his example, all in the power and working of his Spirit within us, as we cooperate fully with that work of grace in our lives. We daily listen to our Lord’s voice speaking to us through his word and via his Spirit, and we obey him. Our heart’s desire is to be like Jesus and to be a light for him and for the gospel to the world around us in loving them with Christ’s love, and in walking the talk, not just talking the walk, and in sharing the message of the gospel of our salvation so they, too, can be saved. When we read the word of God each day, and we spend time with the Lord in prayer, this needs to not be a ritual we perform, as well as we need to read not just for knowledge. When we study the Word of God we should do so prayerfully, asking the Lord to speak to us via his Spirit, and to quicken us in our understanding so that we can apply his Word to our daily lives. In this way, the word of God will come to us in power and not just in words. And, we will accept his Word into our lives with deep conviction of the Spirit so that we desire to do what it says, as well as so we do what it says. Yet, when this happens, we will face much persecution, even from within the church, from the leadership as well as from many of our brothers and sisters in Christ, because so many who profess the name of Jesus today are not doing this, and so we will appear odd or strange to them. We should live such godly lives among the people of this world, and among our fellow believers in Christ, that our faith will become known to others by reputation. As well, our lives should be such that people will want to imitate our faith, and they will view our lives as an example they want to follow. Of course, we need to be humble, and honest, and we need to give God all the glory for whatever he does in our lives, and admit when we fail. Our goal should always be to please our Lord and not to receive praise from human beings. But the lives we live should not be “good” by human standards, but by God’s standards, having had our lives turned to God from idols in order to serve the living and true God, and not to please ourselves. In other words, just because others think we are “good Christians” does not mean we are living holy lives, pleasing to God. So, we need to know the difference. Near the Cross Fanny J. Crosby / William H. Doane Jesus, keep me near the cross; There a precious fountain, Free to all, a healing stream, Flows from Calvary's mountain. Near the cross, a trembling soul, Love and mercy found me; There the bright and morning star Sheds its beams around me. Near the cross! O Lamb of God, Bring its scenes before me; Help me walk from day to day With its shadow o'er me. Near the cross I'll watch and wait, Hoping, trusting ever, Till I reach the golden strand Just beyond the river. In the cross, in the cross, Be my glory ever, Till my raptured soul shall find Rest beyond the river.