Dr. Jono Linebaugh and I discuss how God’s one way love for us liberates us to love our neighbor.
Dr. Jono Linebaugh and I discuss how God’s one way love for us liberates us to love our neighbor.
I thoroughly enjoyed my conversation about One Way Love with Terry Meeuwsen on The 700 Club last week:
This testimony by my new friend Callie Skokos made my day.
I awake to my alarm at 6:15 a.m. and realize that today is Thanksgiving. This fact doesn’t really change things – well, except that having a day off during the week in late November allows me to run in daylight when it’s not quite as frigid. For that, I am thankful. But to be perfectly truthful, I’m thankful for every day I wake up. I’m thankful for every day I can stand and walk and run. In a weird way, I feel like it’s my responsibility to run – to run for those who cannot.
As I’m heading up the first hill on Titan Road, I look to the east and wish the the sun wasn’t being so shy today. Her rays are slowly peeking out from the cloud-scattered horizon and with each ray that the clouds randomly release, I feel a little warmer and a little lighter. I think about how incredible it is that the sun rises every day to brighten and warm our lives. For the first time in 10 years, I think about God.
Read the rest of her powerful story here.
In 2009, Laura Munson wrote a remarkable reflection on the near dissolution of her marriage for The New York Times titled “Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear.” She recounts a painful afternoon when her husband of thirty years came to her, out of the blue, to tell her that he didn’t love her anymore and wanted out of the marriage. She writes, “[My husband's] words came at me like a speeding fist, like a sucker punch, yet somehow in that moment I was able to duck. And once I recovered and composed myself, I managed to say, ‘I don’t buy it.’ Because I didn’t.”
Instead of rising to his hurtful words and responding in kind, she surprised even herself by holding her tongue. She knew that her husband was going through a tough time in his career, feeling less than good about himself, and more than likely transferring that inadequacy onto their relationship. But it’s one thing to understand these things intellectually and another to in the moment:
You can bet I wanted to sit him down and persuade him to stay. To love me. To fight for what we’ve created. You can bet I wanted to. But I didn’t. I barbecued. Made lemonade. Set the table for four. Loved him from afar. And one day, there he was, home from work early, mowing the lawn. A man doesn’t mow his lawn if he’s going to leave it. Not this man. Then he fixed a door that had been broken for eight years…He mentioned needing wood for next winter. The future. Little by little, he started talking about the future. It was Thanksgiving dinner that sealed it. My husband bowed his head humbly and said, “I’m thankful for my family.” He was back.
Reactivity would have killed the marriage. But by some miracle, Munson did not give her husband what he was asking for, which was a fight and a way to scapegoat her for the pain he was feeling. Nor did she try to make him pay for the hurt he was causing. Instead, for all intents and purposes, she turned the other cheek. And it was the key to their recovery. If you’ve ever been in her situation, you know how miraculous it is that she was able to stay quiet. But if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of such an act of mercy, you know it can move mountains.
The gospel announces that we have been.
Excerpted from One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World
There are desperate people who know that they’re desperate and there are desperate people who have convinced themselves that they’re not desperate. But there is no such thing as a non-desperate person. For the ones who know–really know–that they’re desperate, the gospel of grace becomes more than a theological category to debate; it becomes a functional lifeline, the one and only thing we cling to because we cannot breathe without it. The gospel of grace only makes real, life-giving sense to those who are flat on their back and out of options.
My friends, Nathan and Kandace Rather, bear witness to this. Watch…weep…and rejoice:
Join Nathan, Kandace and many, many more desperate people at LIBERATE 2014.
When it comes to the raising of children, one-way love is both the easiest thing in the world and the hardest. How many of us have responded to the experience of becoming a parent for the first time by saying, “I finally understand how powerful and profound of a thing it is that God considers us His children!” The relationship we have with a baby, after all, is about as one-way as it gets. They need and we give, period. They have no illusions about their own power. The very idea that a baby might do something to deserve our love–other than exist–is laughable. It’s no coincidence that Jesus speaks so highly of children; he praises their ability to receive love.
It’s once our kids grow up that understanding the difference between law and grace becomes so difficult—but also so urgent. I’ll give you an example.
My wife and I had a rough year last year with one of our sons. His hardheartedness and willful defiance was not only affecting the rest of the family (sound familiar?), it was breaking our hearts because he was enslaving himself and he didn’t know it. Needless to say, he was not as convinced of the gravity of his misbehavior as Kim and I were. His unrepentant attitude was driving us crazy, so it was decided that he would be put on social lock-down. No car, no phone, no nothing. If he wasn’t at school, he was to be at home. No exceptions. The law had to do its crushing work. He needed to realize the seriousness of what he had been getting involved in. Being the social butterfly that he is, social lock-down was his worst fear, so that was what we chose. To make things even worse, we sold his smartphone.
He wasn’t happy about any of this, and it wasn’t a walk in the park for Kim, me, or the other kids either. It actually made things harder. Without his phone and his friends, he haunted the house like a drug addict going through detox. He couldn’t help out by giving his brother and sister rides, so Kim and I had to go back to serving as chauffeurs.
A month or so after the clampdown had gone into effect, I was traveling back from speaking at a conference. Before I left, I had told my son, in my most earnest, authoritative-father voice, that there was only one thing he needed to do while I was gone and that was to not give his mother a hard time. If he didn’t give her any unnecessary headaches, when I got back, we might revisit the phone issue. Midway through my 48 hour trip, I received a call from Kim, who told me that my request was not, shall we say, being respected. I couldn’t believe it. One thing. 48 hours. He couldn’t do it. I was furious.
I spent the plane ride home battling with God. I mean, really going back and forth with Him about what I should do. I knew I had to deal with the situation as soon as I returned. I was angry with my son for putting me in this situation, and I was tired of dealing with his ingratitude. Clearly my son had not learned his lesson. As far as I was concerned, more law was needed. Yet as I prayed about it, I had this haunting sense that God was telling me it was time to relent. Time to, at least, give the boy his phone back. What? No way, God. Every fiber of my being was resistant to that idea. Not only did the law afford me control over my son (a boy who had proved that he didn’t know how to handle his freedom), he didn’t deserve to get his phone back. The one thing I had asked him to do, he hadn’t done. He’d understood the condition before I left: be good, and you’ll get a phone. Well, he hadn’t been good. So no phone. Very reasonable to me. I was looking for an excuse, any excuse, to keep the handcuffs on. That I was flying back from a conference where I had spoken about one-way love was not lost on me.
Well, I got home, called my son out of his room, and told him we needed to talk. I reminded him of everything I’d said before I left—the conditions under which he would get a phone. He looked at me very sheepishly, knowing he was guilty—again! I talked to him for a while about life and choices and sin and how much we loved him. He listened intently–really listened. In fact, it was the first time he had looked at me in the eyes and really paid attention to what I was telling him. I could tell that what I was saying was finally making sense to him. After we were done talking, we prayed together. First me, then him. When we finished praying, I looked at him and said, “Now go put your shoes on, and let’s go to the phone store and get you a new phone.” He was completely shocked. His lip started to quiver, and he finally burst into tears. In the months since we first caught him doing the stuff that originally got him in trouble, he had shown no remorse, no sorrow. This was the first time I had seen tears. Real tears. I asked him what was wrong. With tears streaming down his face, he looked at me and said, “But, Dad, I don’t deserve a phone.” He was right. He didn’t deserve a phone. He didn’t deserve a pad of paper and a stamp. His words revealed that God knew a lot better how to handle my son than I did. The contrition was genuine. The law had leveled him. It had shown him who he was in a way that left no doubt about his need. It was time for a word of grace.
Notice that his humility did not precede the invitation. The chronology is crucial. His admission was not a condition for mercy; it was its fruit! I looked at him and said, “Listen, son. God takes me to the phone store ten thousand times a day, and I have never ever deserved one…so go get your shoes on and let’s get you a phone.”
It was a happy day.
Now, before you line up to give me the father-of-the-year award, know that the reason I tell the story is because it was such a surprise to me too. My son had come by his rebelliousness honestly, after all. One of the main reasons his behavior bugged me so much was that he reminded me so much of myself when I was his age! I only tell the story for three reasons: One, it illustrates that the law is useful. Grace could not have done it’s curing work if the law had not first done its crushing work. But two, it illustrates how resistant we are to grace. We feel much safer with our hands on the wheel. I was so afraid that he would go nuts, that he would prove himself to be his father’s son once again. It was as hard for me to give up the sense of manageability the law provided as it was for him to lose his phone. It had to be taken from me. And three, the emotional response at being let off the hook was a powerful reminder that only grace can inspire what the law demands. The law was able to accuse him, but only grace could acquit him. The law was able to expose him, but only grace could exonerate him. The law was able to diagnose him, but only grace was able to deliver him.
God showed me one more time that, when it’s all said and done, love (not law) is the essence of any lasting transformation that takes place in human experience.
Excerpted from One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World.
In the minds of many people inside the church, “Livestrong” is the essence and goal of Christianity. You hear this obsession in our lingo: We talk about someone having “strong faith,” about someone being a “strong Christian,” a “prayer warrior,” or a “mighty man/woman of God.” We want to believe that we can do it all, handle it all. We desperately want to think that we are competent and capable— we’ve concluded that our life and our witness depend on our strength. No one wants to declare deficiency. We even turn the commands that seem to have nothing to do with strength (“Blessed are the meek” or “Turn the other cheek”) into opportunities to showcase our spiritual might. I saw a church billboard the other day that said, “Think being meek is weak? Try being meek for a week!”
We like our Christianity to be muscular, triumphant. We’ve come to believe that the Christian life is a progression from weakness to strength—”Started from the bottom, now we’re here” (Drake) seems to be the victory chant of modern Christianity. We are all by nature, in the terminology of Martin Luther, theologians of glory—not God’s glory, but our own.
But is the progression from weakness to strength the pattern we see throughout the Bible?
Read the rest here.
My book One Way Love was recently reviewed critically by David Robertson. I’ve never met David but he seems like a great guy. I deeply appreciated his warm and gracious tone even where he disagreed with (misunderstood?) me and I look forward to meeting him someday. We are brothers in Christ who clearly both love the gospel.
Liberate winsomely responded to David’s review. You can read a portion of their response below:
The standard question/critique of the phrase One Way Love goes like this: The phrase “one way love” implies that God’s love is unrequited, but that’s not right, is it? God’s love for us engenders a reciprocal love from us: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). This means that while it’s right to stress the priority of God’s love, we should avoid the implication about the exclusivity of God’s love. Rather than talking about “one way love” we should talk about “two way love”—that is, God’s prior love for us that produces our subsequent love for him.
This concern was raised in a recent review of One Way Love by David Robertson. There are a couple of things about this review that suggest a “talking past one another,” but the most notable is this: “‘Grace doesn’t make demands. It just gives.’ [That's a quote from One Way Love.] … This does not really make sense to me. Is not ‘take up your cross and follow me’ a demand? Go sell all that you have and give to the poor, is that not a demand?”
Well, yes. Of course those are demands. But why is Robertson so sure they are grace? God’s word, said the reformers, is law and gospel. Jesus, as the Word made flesh, speaks and embodies both. It is therefore right to say Jesus makes demands, but this is not the same thing as saying grace makes demands. To say that grace makes demands is to confuse the categories of law and gospel. Both God’s law and God’s gospel come from God, and both are good. But they have unique job descriptions. As Herman Bavinck said, “The gospel is sheer good tidings, not demand but promise, not duty but gift.” The failure to distinguish the law and the gospel always means the abandonment of the gospel because the law gets softened into “helpful tips for practical living” instead of God’s unwavering demand for absolute perfection, while the gospel gets hardened into a set of moral and social demands we “must live out” instead of God’s unconditional declaration that “God justifies the ungodly.”
You can read the rest of Liberate’s important response here.
It was May 2, 1996 and I was sitting in the U.S. Capitol rotunda with my family. We were eagerly anticipating the ceremony that was getting ready to begin. I had been to Washington DC once before, back in 1985, when I was just 13 years old. This trip was different though. We were there because my grandparents were being honored on this day with the Congressional Gold Medal—the highest honor the Congress of the United States can bestow on a citizen. In fact, Senator Bob Dole, during a speech at the ceremony, said, “When the idea of awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to Billy and Ruth Graham was first raised, it received something rare in this building—unanimous approval.” Everybody laughed. At the time, it was only the 114th medal awarded, with George Washington being the first recipient.
There were hundreds who came that day to honor my grandparents, ranging from then Vice President Al Gore to Kathy Lee Gifford. Newt Gingrich, Senator Dole, and Vice President Gore publicly honored my grandparents by sharing how much my grandparents meant to each of them personally.
After the medal was presented, my granddad got up to speak. Before he could say a word, the crowd stood and applauded for a solid three minutes. Tears began streaming down my face. I was so proud of him and so thankful that God had given me such a tremendous heritage—one I had neither asked for nor deserved. Here was a man who was being publicly honored for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to more people than anyone in history; a man who was being recognized for his love for God and love for others—and I had the privilege of calling him “Daddy Bill.” As we all stood and clapped, I prayed: “Lord, no matter what it is that you call me to do, I want to do it with the gospel-centered focus, passion, and humility that have characterized the life and ministry of my grandfather.”
It was no surprise that he presented the Gospel that day. He spoke boldly of sin, the cross, and the amazing grace of God. He spoke of God’s infinite willingness to forgive, the brevity of life and the fleeting pleasures of this world. He looked into the eyes of the many high ranking political leaders who were there that day and challenged them to contemplate death and the life after. He was so bold, so unashamed of the Gospel—yet so winsome. To this day, I’m not sure I have ever heard the truth spoken in love more effectively. I had heard him preach a thousand times, but this time was particularly moving. I’ll never forget that day.
Today “Daddy Bill” turns 95. I’m in North Carolina to celebrate his birthday. Among the invited guests who will be there are Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Bill Clinton, Rick Warren, and Lecrae. He told me that he doesn’t plan on speaking (he’s so weak), but I wouldn’t be surprised if he took this rare (and perhaps last) opportunity to preach the Gospel to the gathered guests. He just can’t help himself. It’s who he is. He can’t get it out of his system.
Born November 7, 1918 on a dairy farm outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, “Daddy Bill” (who lived the majority of his life on the world stage) rarely leaves home now. His mind is still sharp but his body is weak and frail. He says that getting old has been hard. His wife of over 60 years (my grandmother “TaiTai”) died 6 1/2 years ago. Most of his friends have died. He still sees a world in dire need but is now, for the most part, relegated to the sidelines-cheering his brothers and sisters on, but wishing he could still be in the game. He told me recently that he thinks he’ll live another year or two. I hope it’s longer.
Here’s a short video that CBS taped with me that will be aired across the country today on all CBS outlets (I also taped a tribute to Daddy Bill with Sean Hannity, Lauren Green and James Dobson that will air tonight at 10:00 on Fox News):
Even in his frail state, he was kind enough to write the following blurb for my new book One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World.
I have been greatly encouraged by the emergence of a new generation of committed and articulate Christian leaders—and my grandson Tullian Tchividjian is certainly in the forefront of this development. His deep understanding of the gospel and his unique ability to communicate its timeless truths with compassion and insight have already had a profound impact on countless men and women. May God use this book to expand your understanding of what Jesus Christ has already done for you.
Not long ago, I wrote a few things down that I’ve always admired about my granddad. Since it’s his birthday, I thought I’d share them with you.
1. His Humility: Daddy Bill has always been keenly aware that God is God and he is not. He’s always been conscious of his smallness and God’s bigness, his imperfection and God’s perfection. I was telling someone the other day that it wasn’t until I got older that I began to realize my grandfather was a pretty important person. This is mainly due to the fact that he never, ever, projected himself to be any more or less important than anyone else. I have never seen him think more highly of himself than he ought.
2. His love for the Gospel: Daddy Bill has always had a deep sense of his own sin which has led him to a deep love for his Savior. He’s always exemplified the sweet reality that you can never know Christ as a Great Savior until you first know yourself to be a great sinner. God’s amazing grace still amazes him—and that amazes me!
3. His Faithfulness: Although he had the opportunity to do many things (have his own TV show, become President of various colleges and seminaries, star in movies, and yes, even run for President of the United states) he never wavered concerning God’s call on his life to be an Evangelist. He knows he’s not a scholar or a theologian and he’s never tried to be. He’s always remained true to God’s calling on his life. And he has fulfilled that calling without ever being guilty of any sexual, financial, or other moral scandal.
4. I have never seen him show favoritism: I have been with Daddy Bill in numerous places at numerous times with numerous people and I have never, ever seen him show favoritism. He treats all people the same, whether they’re rich or poor, weak or powerful, socially significant or socially insignificant. Because of his belief that all people are made in God’s image, he has rightfully concluded that there are no little people.
5. His humanness: Daddy Bill is normal! He gets mad, he gets sad, he can be grumpy, and he has a remarkable sense of humor. His favorite restaurant is Morrison’s Cafeteria. His favorite movie is Crocodile Dundee. His favorite drink is orange juice and he loves catfish. He’s just another man with all of the limitations and idiosyncrasies that the rest of us have—and I love him for it!
Daddy Bill, you have been one of my closest friends and most reliable counselors all my life. I want to be just like you when I grow up.
Happy Birthday! I love you.
A marriage is a like a petri dish for the weight of conditionality and the beauty of one-way love. Husbands and wives are often so hard on one another, merciless with their demands and expectations, their criticisms and silences. I’ve seen husbands and wives keep score on one another for the most ridiculous things, from the way they chew their food, to the way their voice sounds when they’re speaking on the phone, to the type of presents they give each other. And yet what brought the couple together in the first place was almost always an experience of grace, some connection that transcended their worthiness. As Southern novelist Walker Percy writes in Love in the Ruins, “We love those who know the worst of us and don’t turn their faces away.”
You and I both know that beneath our happiest moments and closest relationships inevitably lies some instance of being loved in weakness or deserved judgment. Someone let you off hook when you least deserved it. A friend suspended judgment at a key moment. Your father was lenient when you wrecked his car. Your teacher gave you an extension, even though she knew you had been procrastinating. You said something insensitive to your spouse, and instead of retaliating, she kept quiet and didn’t hold it against you the next day. One-way love is the essence of any lasting transformation that takes place in human experience—a person who is loved in their guilt and weakness blossoms.
A marriage flavored by one-way love eschews score-keeping at all costs. It is not a fifty-fifty proposition, where I scratch your back and then you scratch mine. A grace-centered marriage is one in which both partners give 100 percent of themselves. They give up their right to talk about rights. This means that a grace-centered marriage, in theory, is one where both parties are constantly apologizing to each other, asking for and granting forgiveness. No one is ever innocent in a grace-centered marriage. If original sin is as evenly distributed as the Bible claims it is, then both parties have some culpability. Every marriage is the union of two selfish people, fighting for their way, desperate to win. That’s why an apology so often feels like we are betraying ourselves. We would rather see a marriage fall apart than cede any ground in the “war of the roses.”
The world tells us to stand up for ourselves, to stick to our guns. But the Gospel frees us to lay down our arms. There is nothing at stake, and therefore nothing to fear, ultimately. Our righteousness, which we are often hell-bent on protecting in a marriage, has already been secured, and it is not our own. No more having to win, no more having to be right, no more fighting to secure love and extract affection. Because everything I need and long for I already possess in Christ, I am now free to do everything for you without needing anything from you. The fire to love unconditionally comes only from being soaked in the fuel of being unconditionally loved.
For the marriage grounded in one-way love, there is always hope, always a way forward.
Excerpted from One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World