"You have to work hard to offend Christians. By nature, Christians are the most forgiving, understanding, and thoughtful group of people I've ever dealt with. They never assume the worst. They appreciate the importance of having different perspectives. They're slow to anger, quick to forgive, and almost never make rash judgments or act in anything less than a spirit of total love . . . No, wait--I'm thinking of Labrador retrievers!" David Learn, 1998

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Transforming Grace: Filters

     Often, before Lou preaches, whoever leads in prayer will ask us to set aside distractions and any filters through which we pre-judge or criticize message or messenger. This is reasonable--to a point.  
     When I watch movies, I watch them on several levels. As an author, I evaluate dialogue and plot. I watch for things like plausibility. I watch through filters that critique acting and lighting and photography. I have a filter through which I make moral judgments about the message.
     I try not to use any of these filters when I attend church or listen to sermons. I am not there to judge.
     But there is a filter God says we each must use when we listen to any teaching or claims made in His name. Acts 17:10-12 commends the believers in Berea: "Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." (italics mine.)
     This filter is not optional and to set it aside is to make ourselves vulnerable to error. We are to be like the Bereans, examining the Scriptures every day to see if what Lou and other pastors teach is true.
     This morning Lou preached a sermon on I Peter 1:1-12.  My "Biblical" filter was in place. I listened carefully to every word and I made notes of everything Lou said. And everything he said was right on.
     It was wonderful. The message was true, it was honest, it was life-giving. He actually taught the text. He said, "In this passage Peter asks what God has done, what is He doing, and what difference does it make?
     "What has God done? Being a Christian is not a choice you make. It means God chose you. It means knowing Him in a relational way. He has set you apart through His spirit to belong to Him. If you're a Christian, you need to see yourself this way.
     "It's not because of something you are or do. It's simply beause of His love and His grace. Your primary identity is your having been chosen by God simply because He loves you.
     "Has that happened to you? Have you been chosen by God? Philippians 1:6 says the One who began a good work in you will perfect it. He has called you to live as an obedient person, as a forgiven person.
     "There are two births. You had no control over your first birth. Peter talks about being born again, of having a new birth, a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God has raised Jesus from the dead for us. It actually happened. This is His guarantee that He will raise us from death, too. Jesus' resurrection is the guarantee that it can and will happen. God's hope can never perish, spoil, or fade."
     There was a spiritual battle in the room but God was using His words from Lou's mouth to win it, driving out darkness, bringing peace and true unity. Jerry and I stood against the back wall and I marveled, seeing this church as God wants it to become--keeping all the earnestness and energy and creativity of our youth, all the powerful passages of Scripture, all the worship and substance of the songs with the added dimension of messages proclaiming the real Jesus.   
     "What is God doing now? He is guarding you by His power--because there is no use guarding an inheritance if there are no heirs. This is the great anticipation of what we'll enjoy fully in the future. Like someone shopping for a new car, we are already enjoying a test drive in anticipation of the actual release of that car.
     "Right now, in all this, we should have joy. Our faith is tested by fire so it will result in praise and glory. Can you trust God in your present trials so that your trust will grow stronger? It is the embrace of faith that produces joy. Peter says 'obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.'
     He said the Lord came into this world to give us life. He told us, "If you have never entered into that life, never experienced that living hope, you can now." He called us to sit silently for a few minutes. "If you already have that life, thank Him for it."
     He closed with the words, "Thank You that we can trust You with our life. Thank you that You have called us to Yourself."
     Standing with Jerry against the back wall I thought, If Lou preaches the truth, the whole gospel, without a private agenda or ulterior motives, there is no pastor I would rather sit under and no church I would rather be part of.

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