Thursday, August 31, 2023

To Disagree Is Not to Hate

(Tree roots - Lake Erie - Monroe)

(I'm reposting this to keep this ball in play.)

Here's a note to all who want to sit around the table and have interfaith dialogue. Interfaith dialogue is hard work, because you have to address different religious beliefs. The way you address them is not to affirm disparate beliefs. There will be no authentic interfaith dialogue if that happens. 

When I was a campus pastor at Michigan State University (1981-1992) I met with many religious leaders. We all held different core beliefs. In some cases, our worldviews were diametrically opposed. Obviously, we did not agree on many things. Did this mean we hated each other? Of course not. To label someone a "hater," or accuse them of "hate language," just because they don't agree with whatever your position is, is uncivil and irrational. (Welcome to the new world of microaggressions and cancel culture. See The Chronicle of Higher Education for university examples.)

We who are followers of Jesus are called to agape love. This love is so radical it even instructs us to love our enemies! People in my church, and those who follow me on this blog, know I have been praying to love even those who are my enemies. Jesus' command to love tells me it is possible to love people who hate me and come against me. Surely, then, I can love people who disagree with me.

To feel anger is not to hate. Over our forty-seven years of marriage, Linda and I have had moments of anger towards each other. But this does not entail that we hate each other. What we do with our feelings of anger can lead to hatred, which is not what God wants. When we are told to "be angry, but don't sin," this means anger does not equal hatred. To still love, even when in disagreement, even when angry, is a sign of spiritual maturity and freedom.

As a follower of Jesus, I am not allowed to say these words to anyone - "I hate you." 

Conversely, saying "I agree with you" is not to love. Agreeing or disagreeing has nothing to do with love or hate. Love and hate concern how we respond when in disagreement, when feeling anger.

I learned a lot about disagreeing with others in studying philosophy. Philosophy classes are arenas of formulating arguments and evaluating them. Every formulation is subject to evaluation. Evaluation produces tension and a conflict of ideas. Many times, in those sometimes-intense discussions, I heard words like, "I believe you are wrong about that," or "I disagree with what you just said, because..."  

Of all the philosophy professors I had, only one was unwelcoming of disagreement and dialogue. The rest were dispassionate and, as much as anyone can be (because no one can perfectly be), objective.

Philosophical disputing was welcoming and inviting. And, there was significant questioning and disagreeing.

Lying in the background of all this are the Platonic dialogues. Here is where the art of respectful disagreement was learned. All philosophers have been shaped by these forums.

Philosophy classes taught me how to disagree without hating. I learned that disagreement is not logically equivalent to hatred. Hatred, when it happens, is a sad non sequitur to disagreement. It was sad that Socrates was killed by the hatred of some who failed to understand him. The way Socrates handled this has been a model of disagreeing while not hating.

My philosophy professors expected disagreement and questioning. They made the classroom a safe place. I learned that a safe place is not a place where everyone agrees about everything. A safe place is a place where people can disagree and learn and grow in wisdom.

A safe place is a place where disagreement is accompanied by love and respect. An unsafe place is a place where disagreement breeds hatred.

A safe place is a place for civil discourse. An unsafe place is a place where you don't have a voice.

A safe place is a place where people come first to understand, and only after understanding is achieved, to evaluate. An unsafe place is where people judge without understanding.

A safe place is a place where you can be angry, but sin not.

Anger is not hatred. A parent can be angry with their child, and not hate them at the same time.

Anger is the emotion you feel when one of your expectations has not been met. Hatred is rooted in anger. Hatred is not the emotion, anger is. Hatred is a sinful expression or response or reaction rooted in anger. Anger is an emotion you feel. Hatred is expressed in something you do.

To disagree is not to hate.

People Who Meditate on God-thoughts Become People of Substance

                         (A piece of hard cinnamon toast and a cup of hot chocolate for breakfast)

When I was a youth pastor in the 70s at First Baptist Church of Joliet, Illinois, we had a big kid named Dan, who one day boasted, "I can put an entire Big Mac in my mouth and swallow it whole." We said "No way!!!" So, we drove to McDonald's and bought a Big Mac for Dan.

Was this an idle boast because he wanted a free meal? Dan - who was a football player at Joliet Central H.S. - inserted the Big Mac in his mouth. That was the last we saw of it. I am certain Dan saw more of it later than he wanted. If you don't take small bits and chew your food it will not get assimilated to your physical body.

The Psalmist wrote, "Lord I love your law. I meditate on it day and night." (Psalm 119:97) Meditation is a slow-cooker, not a microwave. Meditation is like a cow chewing its cud, not a kid inhaling a Big Mac. Meditation on God-thoughts allows the Spirit to assimilate them to your spirit, and even to your physical body. This
 results in a heart that is liberated from the cares and preoccupations of one's daily business.

To meditate on God's thoughts in Scripture is to be self-exegeted by Scripture. Bible "study" can keep God's thoughts at an objective distance. Meditative Scripture reading is my spirit simmering in the flavors and spices of the mind of Christ. As I am studied by Scripture I am empowered by the Spirit.

Meditative praying produces inner change. I must choose this day what my meditation shall be, for so shall the shape of my heart be formed. 

Tim Keller writes:

"Persons who meditate become people of substance who have thought things out and have deep convictions, who can explain difficult concepts in simple language, and who have good reasons behind everything they do. Many people do not meditate. They skim everything, picking and choosing on impulse, having no thought-out reasons for their behavior. Following whims, they live shallow lives."

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

What Is Apologetics?

In my coming six-session Apologetics class (live at Redeemer, and zoomed online) I will:

1. Talk about what the Bible teaches (Christian doctrine). 

2.  Talk about how to defend what the Bible teaches (Christian apologetics).

$10 for six 90 minute sessions.

Register HERE.

Inner Healing Sermons


                                                                     (Lake Michigan)

Here are three sermons on inner healing.

Breaking the Chains of Shame

Monday, August 28, 2023

What Love is Not. What Love Is.

                                                         (Cross, in Redeemer's sanctuary.)

One year ago, at Redeemer, Tim Curry and I co-preached on "Love: What It Is; What It Is Not." (Message HERE.)

I began by sharing how Tim and I have seen our church family expressing and manifesting the love of God, Our church family is one that loves by serving one another, and serving beyond the walls of the church building. For many of our people, servanthood is a lifestyle. It is their character, We have not yet fully arrived, but we are being formed into the character of Christ. (Galatians 4:19)

"Love" is an often-used, often misunderstood, often abused word. Over 100 million songs have been written about love. 60% of all songs ever written are about love. Last week I think I looked at all of them. My conclusion is that ninety-nine million are about self-gratification. They are, in Pauline language, flesh-indulgent.

They are contrary to the ways of the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:17) 

The biblical Greek word for 'love' is agape. Agape, and its other forms (e.g., the verb agapao), appears 320 time in the New Testament. Philieo (friendship-love) appears fifty-five times. What about eros, the word for sexual desire? Eros does not appear, at all, in the New Testament.

Eros is massive in the "love" songs of today. So many are about the gratification of desire. But desire is not central to love, because desire is consumptive. When I say "I love Klondike bars, what I'm really saying is, "I want to consume Klondike bars." 

Agape love is poles apart from desire-fulfillment. John Stott defined agape love as the sacrifice of self in the service of another. In other words, it is a voluntary giving of yourself. This is the Galatians idea of agape as a fruit of the Spirit. Agape love is profound concern for the well-being of others, with no expectation of getting something in return, with no expectation of even getting a “thank you.”

For followers of Jesus, what is the meaning of "love?" At this point in yesterday's sermon Tim and I pointed to the large wooden cross in our sanctuary. And said...

...This is love...,

...There is no greater love.

The connection between agape and servanthood is solidified in Galatians 5:13.

Do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh,

Instead, use your freedom to serve one another, humbly, in love.

The agape love of God is radical, revolutionary, and dismissive of all cultural narcissistic "loves." It is, as Paul writes, "contrary" and antithetical to flesh-desire. 

When it comes to knowing love and loving others with agape-love, I am not turning to the flesh-songs of today. The love of God, which is real love, foundational love, and about which there is no greater love, is essentially other-centered.

Greater love [agape] has no one than this: 

to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Just as I Am? (On Cheap Grace)


                                                          (Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio)

Does God affirm me, just as I am? Here's what I wrote in my book Deconstructing Progressive Christianity.

"In 1970 (yikes!) I became a follower of Jesus. I was twenty-one. (You do the math.) One of the first books recommended to me was Dietrich Bonhoeffer's monumental The Cost of Discipleship. I didn't grasp it all at the time. I did understand Bonhoeffer's distinction between "costly grace" and "cheap grace." It reminded me of the apostle Paul, when he wrote, What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2)  

Eric Metaxas, in his biography of Bonhoeffer, argues that the Lutheran Church's drift into cheap grace was a factor in allowing Hitler to come to power. (See Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy) Metaxas says that cheap grace means "going to church and hearing that God just loves and forgives everyone, so it doesn’t really matter much how you live." Anyone who believes that, and self-refers as a follower of Jesus, has drifted into heresy. Yes, orthopraxy is important.  

Tim Keller writes that, today, we live in an age of cheap grace.  "Many Christians want to talk only about God’s love and acceptance. They don’t like talking about Jesus’ death on the cross to satisfy divine wrath and justice. Some even call it “divine child abuse.” Yet if they are not careful, they run the risk of falling into the belief in “cheap grace”—a non-costly love from a non-holy God who just loves and accepts us as we are. That will never change anyone’s life.""

Saturday, August 26, 2023

The Constant Blamer Is the Perpetual Victim


(Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan)

(I'm re-posting this to keep it in play.)

Linda and I strongly recommend John Townsend's book The Entitlement Cure: Finding Success in Doing Hard Things the Right Way.

One of the bitter fruits of entitlement is externalization. Townsend writes: "People with an attitude of entitlement often project the responsibility of their choices on the outside, not the inside. The fault lies with other people, circumstances, or events. They blame others for every problem." (p. 61)

The worship songs of externalization are...

"It's Them, It's Them, It's Them O Lord, Standin' in the Need of Prayer," and...

"Change Their Hearts, O God." 

Externalization-people fail to look at their part in their problems. "Instead, they default to answers outside their skin. The result? They tend to be powerless and unhappy. They tend to see life through the eyes of a victim. And their suffering is unproductive — it doesn’t get them anywhere." (Ib.)

The classic victim mentality is:

"Yes, I did what was wrong. But you forced me to do it." This is a testimony to human character weakness. The characterless "victim" persists in recruiting other characterless people for the self-justification of evil. They engage in perpetual destruction of others, not to mention their own soul.

"Blame," writes Townsend, "is a first cousin to entitlement." 

The constant blamer is the perpetual victim. The antidote to this bondage is to reject forces outside yourself and take responsibility for your own choices and attitudes. Be open to seeing yourself as the problem. Reject a global victimization that views yourself as someone who is always being "done to," and own your own part in your problems. 

Forgive those who have trespassed on your heart. Take responsibility for your own trespassing.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Five Peacemaking Principles


                        (Linda and I bought these two coffee mugs on our honeymoon 50 years ago.)

I have been in many discussions about peacemaking and relationship reconciliation. And, Linda and I have been in plenty of (52 years together in ministry!) situations where we have been asked to help people come together. 

Here are five Peacemaking Principles we do our best to operate by.

1. We love all involved in the conflict.

2. We never take sides. We are for the relationship.

3. We focus on behaviors. We don't psychologize or mind-read.

4. We don't take counsel from the counselees. We present the way towards peace and reconciliation, as best we can.

5. If someone objects to these principles, then we are not their counselors. (It has happened.)

Note: I often refer people to James Van Yperen's excellent Making Peace: A Guide to Overcoming Church Conflict.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Marriage Counselors Don't Take Sides

                                     (Wedding reception at Redeemer)

Over the years I've told several maritally challenged husbands and wives, "I am not on your side." And added: "I am not on your spouse's side either." Rather: "I am siding with your marriage and (if they have children) family."

Sometimes this is not good news for the marital partner. They want me to take their side in the war. But I can't take sides if we're going to save the marriage.

At this point a percentage of couples stop meeting with me. I am not their counselor any longer.

Most struggling marriages have systemic problems that both husband and wife are responsible for, even if one of them looks more like a victim than the other. "Both of you," I tell them, "are 100% responsible for your marital situation." 

For there to be success (= marital restoration, renewal, and transformation) the individual husband must look to God and then be searched out himself, taking responsibility for problems he brings to the marriage. The wife must do the same, to herself. if this happens (we've seen it!) then the chances of saving their marriage increase significantly. For any couple who humbly does this I predict a stronger, healthier marriage.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

MY APOLOGETICS CLASS - Join me this fall!


Join Me This Fall in Renewal School of Ministry


Go Deeper...Go Higher  

To grow your roots deep and increase your knowledge of the Lord and His Kingdom know what you believe and why. It's time to go deeper and higher. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Register today!


FALL TERM SEPT. 17 - Oct. 26, 2023

Classes run on Sun, Mon, Tues, Thurs evenings: 8 PM ET, 7 PM CT, 6 PM MT, 5 PM PT.

Course descriptions can be found HERE.


1.   Prayer - Pastor Ross Lieuallen  

  Sunday night @ 8 PM ET starting September 17, 2023

2.  Apologetics - Dr. John Piippo 

  Monday night @ 8 PM ET starting September 18, 2023

3.  The Study of Jonah - Pastor Billy Ford  

 Tuesday night @ 8 PM ET starting September 19, 2023

4.  Properly Interpreting Scripture - Dr. Clayton Ford 

  Thursday night @ 8 PM ET starting September 21, 2023

2-Hour Saturday Seminar -  Saturday October 21, 2023

Examining Trends in the Charismatic Movement - Dr. Clayton Ford

8am to 10am (PT), 9am to 11am (MT), 10am to noon (CT), 11am to 1pm (ET)