Todd brings his beloved dog Caleb on stage, explaining how the unwavering devotion Caleb has for him is comparable to what our relationship with God should be like. Especially when we know that God loves us infinitely more than a human master ever could.
Speaking from the perspective of both a dog-owner and a Christ-follower, Todd concludes this one-of-a-kind message with three things that will occur when our relationship with God looks like his relationship with Caleb.
Believed the Truth? Received the Life? Then Walk in the Way.
Getting a Grip on What it Means to Love God
Believe What He Has Done, Be Living Like He Has Done It
The Blueprint of the Church, part 2
The Blueprint of the Church, part 1
A Reasonable and Right Response to His Radical, Redemptive Love
The Divine Dimension of Love
The Breadth, Depth, Width and Height of Puppy Love
A Suffering Steward in a Cell: What was True of Paul Ought to be True of Us
Things into Which Angels Long to Look
Father, what a great, encouraging time we've already had in music and in seeing Shelly do what many of us have done to make a public testimony of our faith and love for you. Thank you for the reminder through worship of your incredible love and faithfulness to us, indeed how wide, how long, how high, and how deep is the love of Christ.
May that become a more ever-present reality as a result of us studying the truth of your Word, that we might not be sucked into the lies this world is constantly drawing us toward but that we would be reminded, that we would transform ourselves by the renewing of our minds, that we might then prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect, that we would conform ourselves to the very one who died for us.
It is true, and we are grateful that since he gave his life for us, we now want to respond by giving our lives for him. May that happen as a result of our worship, as a result of our time in your Word, as a result of our fellowship, as a result, most importantly, of the fullness of your Spirit in our lives, the mystery of grace. In Jesus' name, amen.
Whenever you want to see what an individual has just gotten through communicating to you, or at least what he thinks he has, you want to listen to how he prays. Last week, when I closed my talk, if you'll remember, I prayed three things: that you would indeed be constrained by the love of Christ, that you would go from here and your life would be different, and that you would make decisions based upon the love relationship you have entered into.
I prayed that you would be good stewards of the mysteries of the grace of God, which was first given to the apostles and the New Testament prophets who spoke God's truth, that you would also go out and be a good steward and not one who would be irresponsible with the administration God had given to you.
Finally, I prayed that you might consider how God wants for you to suffer for the sake of his kingdom and for the sake of his truth, that others might not be discouraged, though, as they see you suffer, a very person who is loved by the God we just sang about. "His banner over you is love." There will be times when individuals in this room will go through incredible heartache, incredible periods of loneliness, yet there will be a peace that will surround you.
There's going to be turmoil in the community and sometimes in the condition of the circumstances that are nearest to you. Those sufferings will sometimes be a direct result of you being in the very will of God, and sometimes it'll be for the sole purpose that others might see how a Christian responds in a circumstance like that, that they have a hope that is beyond this world.
Other times, you'll suffer directly because God led you to give outside of your means and outside of your comfort. He called you to serve outside of a time you felt like you had strength to serve. Others are going to go, "Why do you continually make such sacrifices for others?" and you'll respond and go, "Do you know why God lets his child who he loves go through this? It is to your glory. It shows your incredible worth."
So you heard me pray that at the end, that you might respond that way, because that's what I had talked about. There are five prayers of Paul we find in his epistles. One of them is in Ephesians, chapter 1. He specifically says there, "God, I pray that you would enlighten them, that you would teach them truth. Not that you would give them something they don't already have, but that you would help them understand the truth that is already theirs."
The second prayer of Paul in your New Testament comes in Ephesians 3:14-21. He doesn't pray for enlightenment there. One has said he prays for enablement there, that you would be enabled to act rightly, that you would be enabled to be different by the truth he just got through pouring all over you in chapters 2 and 3.
The others (they're fun to read and fun to pray) are Philippians 1, Colossians 1, and 2 Thessalonians 1, but the one we're going to focus on for the next two weeks, in brevity tonight and then in an extended way next week, is in Ephesians, chapter 3. I want to tell you what. This is such an encouraging…
I've read this I don't know how many times, because I really poured myself into it to prepare for our time together. It became one of my newest favorite seven or eight verses in the Bible, as always happens. I just cannot believe the riches that are before me. Indeed, God's Word is better than silver and more desirable than gold. Look at what it says in verse 14.
"For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, [Christian,] according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend [grasp] with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge…" It's beyond our ability to understand.
"…that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen."
What Paul is praying right here is simply that you would come to a more full understanding of God's incredible love for you. You come to church a lot, and you're going to hear truth that's going to penetrate you. It's going to pierce you between your soul and your spirit, between the joint and the marrow. Sometimes God's Word is going to get in there and you're going to go, "Oh man. That is true, and that hurts." You're going to be confronted with sin and the ugliness of your life, and you're going to have the Word of God correct you and reprove you sometimes.
But there are other times that you're going to come in here, and, gang, you should get a hug that matches no other. Shelly said, "I struggled with the idea of the grace of God." Don't we all. Paul says, "Because you struggle with the grace of God, because you do not understand the truth I just spent two chapters trying to convince you of, your lives are not as different as they can be." Tonight, I want to give you, hopefully, in a small way, but the best I can do in a short time, a picture of the love of God and a right response to it.
Sometimes when you misunderstand things it can be kind of funny. I grew up as a kid, and there were some misunderstandings I had. I happened to grow up in St. Louis, Missouri. I was a big St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan, and every time I'd go to the games, dadgummit, I could not understand why when we would go there, St. Louis Cardinals baseball fans, winner of more World Series than any other organization but the dreaded Yankees…
Every time we would stand and sing, we would stand and sing this anthem, which at the end of it we'd say, "This is the land of the free and the home of the Braves." I did not understand as a child why we at Busch Stadium in Saint Louis would pay homage to the Atlanta Braves. So in protest I stood silently. I never finished the national anthem. I did not understand, as a young man, how they could get these people…
It really confused me when I would watch these "shoot 'em up" Westerns and I saw people killed. I thought, "Who are these actors? They're not paying them enough. How are they dying like they are?" Until I sat and figured out they must be ex-cons who are sentenced to die anyway, and they can either go to the electric chair or they can go out in a blaze of glory in a Western and the Duke can take them down. It was a simple misunderstanding.
When I was growing up, there were these things going on called the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks. They were SALT talks. It really confused me that other nations had salt shakers that could communicate with each other and people would go and the news covered it. I was confused by this idea of guerrilla warfare. I thought there were plenty of bananas to go around. Why all this problem? Some misunderstandings as a kid. They were kind of funny.
I happen to love a cartoon called The Far Side. The guy has a great sense of humor. There was this one Far Side that a dog had a misunderstanding in. He was sitting in a car with his owner, and his tail was wagging. He was looking at his buddy Max, another dog who was still in the yard. Max was looking depressed because his friend was getting to go in the car. He said, "Hey, Max! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Guess what. We're going to the post office, and after that we're going to the drugstore, and then I get to go to the vet store and get tutored." Not such a funny misunderstanding.
You see, sometimes misunderstandings can be funny, and other times they can be absolutely tragic. I need to tell you that I had a gross misunderstanding of something that affected my life for a long time. I had a misunderstanding about who God was. I didn't know that he did love me. I, like Shelly, really struggled with the idea of grace. I grew up as a kid around sports, and all I knew was in sports you were as good as your last performance.
A lot of my acceptance and a lot of my worth was tied to conditional performance. So I thought surely this God thing was also the same way, that I had to perform well enough long enough that he would eventually accept me. Frankly, I neither had the motivation nor the desire to do it. I thought, "I have enough rules. I have rules at home. I have rules at school."
Do you know what I thought about the breadth, length, height, and depth of God? I'd look at that huge Bible… I went to a church that had one of those old Bibles that filled up this entire deal. I'd look at the breadth, look at the depth of the rule book in that organization, and I thought to myself, "I don't know what I'm going to do when I grow up, but I can assure you one thing: I will not join that club. They have the fattest rule book I've ever seen."
It has been well said that as a kid… I did. I had a drug problem as a kid growing up. Every Sunday morning, my dad would drag me to church. I'd get drug week after week after week. It's funny, because I think a lot of us who went to the church that we did… There was a habit of attending there, but there weren't people who I saw there…
I'm sure there were some, but I didn't see a lot of people who were constrained by the love of God, who knew the privilege of being a steward of the mystery of God's grace, who were committed to suffering in whatever way they needed to so others might know the incredible love of God for them. There were some. I can think of a few I had who suffered greatly to endure me.
It finally happened when I was in high school and a group of guys literally decided to befriend me at great cost to themselves, I'm sure. They spent some weekends with a skinny, obnoxious little ninth grader who they decided just to love and to spend some time with and to bring into their fellowship. They wouldn't probably go all of the places they used to go because they'd be laughed at because they were hanging out with me, but I saw some people make sacrifices just to love me.
I began for the first time to really understand what love was. They told me that the love wasn't theirs; it was God's who dwelt in them, and they introduced me to that Jesus. Some of my misunderstandings, which were crippling me, began to fall away. See, I had a real misunderstanding about my relationship with God. I had a misunderstanding about the cause of it. I thought the cause of my relationship with God was that it was a plot of parents to get you to have to do things you did not want to do.
I found out that was not the cause of my relationship with God later. The cause of my relationship with God was that he chose me because he loved me. I found out that the source of my relationship with God was not, as I grew up thinking, some way to restrict me from having the fun I should have, but the source of my relationship with God was his incredible love for me, and I saw that the continuance of my relationship with God was not based on my performance but was based on his faithfulness toward me. It changed my life when I saw the breadth, the depth, the height, the length of his love for me.
I want to share with you a picture of a friend I have. I wish I could completely, but I'll just describe it to you. There was one I chose, and our relationship was based not on what he has done but based on my love for him. The cause of our relationship was that I chose him out of many. I simply chose to love him out of my sovereign right to choose what I wanted.
The source of our relationship is simply that I would have an indistinguishable love for this one I chose, that it would never go out, that I would stay faithful to him. The continuance of our relationship was not based on how he responded; it was simply that I said, "You are mine, and I will care for you, and I will draw you near me with the love I offer."
Some of you guys who know me well know I have a dog that I one time chose and decided to love in a way that would make it irresistible for him to respond to me. This dog I have…his name is Caleb. When I named him, I didn't know it, but that's Hebrew for dog. I have this friend, and he and I go places, and again and again, people have been drawn to this relationship I have with my dog.
He is about 8 years old now, and Caleb has never had a leash on his neck his entire life. That dog can run about 22 to 23 miles an hour. I can, on a good day, with the wind at my back, clock at about seven. Whenever he wants to, he is free to flee from me, to run, to go wherever he wants, but he doesn't choose to do that. He chooses to respond to the love I have offered him.
Gang, let me just tell you this. The love we have did not come overnight. It came over time as a puppy, as I administered to him, literally… I took him to the vet to get his shots he needed to get, took care of him, fed him faithfully, picked ticks off him, got fleas off him, made sure rashes were taken care of. I poured my life into that dog. Everywhere I went, this dog went. This dog fell in love with me because he saw firsthand… He came into this relationship with me, and it has been the joy of his life to stay by my side.
In fact, when I got married right here at this church… It was at the request of the mother of the bride. I did not want to do it myself, or I thought it might be funny but I did not suggest it. When it came time for the ring, the man who married me said, "Todd, do you have a token of your love for this woman?" I said, "Yes, I do." I turned to my best man, and he said, "Well, wait a minute. I gave it to your brother." My brother said, "I gave it to Caleb." Everybody kind of laughed.
So I whistled for Caleb, and he came in. He came walking right up this little aisle and came heeling to my side. He had his little bow tie on, his little cuff links on. Let me show you what it looked like. We gave my wife the ring, and the three of us are now wed. Caleb and I have a relationship which is really, honestly, fairly unique. That night, he gave the ring, and then we ushered him out. I'll just show you a few things.
I do all this… Honestly, it's fun to do. I get embarrassed when my wife sometimes… We've had our discussions about this, where somebody new comes and she goes, "Oh, do those tricks. Run through some stuff with Caleb." He knows about 30 to 40 different commands we can do. I do all this because I'm not afraid of using things that are around us that God has in our lives to teach biblical truths.
There happened to be a guy I respect named Jesus who did a very similar thing. Places that he was that he was around… He said, "Do you see that over there? It's a lot like this. See that fig tree? It's a lot like you. See this bread? It's to remind you of this. Do you see this water? Drink of this water." I want to show you a relationship, and I want to show you a freedom. He can go wherever he wants, but he stays. He gets closer for one reason: because he loves me.
I'll just tell you this. I watched TV and saw a commercial. It was a Stroh's beer commercial, and there was a dog on there named Alex. That dog, as the commercial goes, would sometimes… When buddies were sitting around playing cards, the guy would send Alex into the kitchen to get him a Stroh's, so it would go, and then you heard the bottles of Stroh's opening and the dog lapping up the beer. I thought to myself, "That's kind of a fun little deal."
I happen to personally choose not to drink, but I do have a little bit of a love for Mountain Dew and Pepsi, so I thought, "Maybe I could teach Caleb to go and fetch me a cold one." I share that with you because he can. I haven't done it in a long while. We had a sock tied around our refrigerator door for a long time, and I'd say to Caleb, "Go fetch me a cold one." He'd walk into the kitchen, put his little mouth to the sock, pull the sock, reach in there, get a Coke, shut it with his nose, and walk in and leave it there at my feet. As sure as I'm standing here.
The truth is you can teach a dog to do anything you want it to do if it knows you love it and it understands what you want it to do. Gang, what Paul is going to pray is that you understand that God loves you and that you are drawn to a relationship with him, that you might go, "Lord, what do you want me to do? I desire to please you. I know our relationship is not going to be based on what I do. It's going to be a response."
Caleb is my dog. It doesn't matter if he runs away. I'm going to post signs. "Have you seen my dog?" I'll give a reward if he'll return. That's God's love for you if you're his child, if you're his son in a faith relationship, if you've responded to his choosing you. See, Caleb is oblivious to so much. He doesn't know there was a whole litter of dogs and that was the one I said I was going to give my life for. I don't know why God chose me either, but he did. That's what the Scriptures say. That's what Ephesians teaches.
Caleb and I in this little relationship… I'll just give you three things it'll accomplish if you have a right relationship like this. First, if you love God… The illustration I use, and the reason I purposely never put a leash around Caleb's neck is because I wanted to be able to say that about him, that there's no leash around his neck and he chooses to follow me. When I say, "Heel," I'll walk, and everywhere I go, he'll stay right by my side.
When I stop, he stops. When I move again, he'll move again. It doesn't matter where I am or where I'll go, once I say, "Heel," he's going to stay by my side. It's just because he loves me. I'll tell you what it does. When you have a relationship like this, the very first thing it'll do… When you understand, as we'll study next week, the height, the width, the depth, the length of God's love for you, it will protect you.
There's probably one thing in the world that Caleb loves more than me, and that is this stupid little yellow tennis ball. Caleb is a retriever. He was made to go get that. He doesn't understand why there would be something out there that he knows he should go retrieve and yet he can't. He is locked in like this. There was a time we were out front playing, and I threw the ball. I didn't look really carefully, and all of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a car make a turn. I watched, and I thought, "If I'm not careful, that car is going to get to that street about the same time Caleb is." So out of nowhere I yelled, "No!"
Caleb thought, "Wait a minute. You gave me the command to go and release, and I'm going after that which you have created me to go after, and all of a sudden I heard this word 'No.'" He stopped. He turned around and looked at me like, "What's your problem?" He never knew a car had gone by. If he had not listened to that loving voice he knew so well, Caleb and I wouldn't be here today, but because he knew there was one who loved him who did not give commands for no reason, he stopped.
Now I'm going to get a little bit personal. There are a lot of singles who happen to be here. Have you ever felt like you were created to do something, and you're sitting there going, "I've got to get it; I've got to have it now," and God says, "No, not yet. Stay." You're going, "I was made to do this." I want to tell you something. You were, but there's a reason that sometimes the Master says, "No." There's a reason sometimes he says, "Wait."
You may not be able to see what he sees, but God is not in to giving just casual orders and commands. If he's yelling "No" to abstain from sexual immorality until a certain time in your life, abstain, because he loves you much more than I love Caleb. Now if you feel like that, and I'm sure you will, know this: the love of God constrains you. You don't understand always how or why, but you know the commands are there from one who loves you. A dog will do whatever you want it to do if it knows you love it and it understands.
Gang, do you know that God loves you, and do you understand what he asks of you? It's not just for a casual reason; it's for your protection. There was a time when I would work up in the Ozarks, and I would go out. One day, I went to a farm that a buddy had. When we got there, out came Caleb the city dog, no leash around his neck, and Caleb was kind of bouncing around. There were three country dogs. They were just mutts, and they were running around. They chased wagons for a living. They ate mice and all this stuff.
They probably looked at Caleb and went, "Listen to me." They probably said to Caleb, "Caleb, why in the world do you listen to that tall skinny guy with a crooked nose? Why do you give your life to him? Why don't you come and be free like us and do what you want to do when you want to do it?" In fact, it was getting nightfall. They probably said to him, "Why don't you come and play and leave that guy alone?" Caleb didn't. He just stayed right there.
Those dogs did, in fact, go off, and the next day, sure as I'm standing here, I went back out, and of the three of those dogs, there was one of them that didn't return, there was another one that returned and had a gut that was split wide open, and a third that had an eye that had been scraped out that very night. The reason Caleb didn't go running off with them is because I said, "No, Caleb. Stay. Stay out here by the door while I go in and sleep."
Those dogs came back, and they looked at him, and Caleb said, "Boy, you guys look like you had kind of a rough night." What happened to the one… It got caught up under a baling wagon. Another one got in a fight with some kind of wild critter, and the other one also got in a fight with a baling wagon but just got split open, didn't get killed.
Caleb said, "You know something? I would have loved to chase that same wagon, but I had a master who told me not to do it. He protected me from my foolishness, from the nature of a dog to run out and bark after something a hundred thousand times its size. He restrained me here. By the way, how did you guys eat last night?"
"Well, we scurried around looking for some remains, some roadkill to chew on." Caleb said, "You know something? That guy that you made fun of me… He fed me. He provided for me. He cared for me. You know something? I had a wound like that one time, and he took me and nursed me back to health. Do you guys have an owner like that?"
I have a feeling the conversation was a little different, that those dogs might have said, "Could you introduce me to that owner? Do you think he'd love us? Do you think he'd care for me? Do you think he'd accept me even though I'm a mutt?" The answer would have been "Yes" if those dogs would have come and would have wanted somebody to care and provide for them. You may not feel like you've had a master who cares for you. I would invite you to know one personally tonight. If you have this kind of relationship, you will be protected.
The second thing that'll happen is if you have this kind of relationship, your master will be praised. Places that I go again and again, and people who know Caleb… They all the time say, "How do you train that dog? What did you do to make him have that kind of attention?" It was really easy. I'm talking 15 minutes a day for just a couple of months, but it was rooted and grounded in a love relationship.
People will look and go, "Man, that's one of the finest dogs I've ever seen," and they praise me for having such a fine animal. When was the last time somebody looked at you and went, "Wait a minute. Who is your God that you serve him so well, that he deserves such love and such affection? Tell me about this God who is so worthy to be praised." If you live your life responsibly, God will be praised.
I was talking to somebody recently who was with a bunch of Christians. She was before them, and she said, "You know what? They were some of the saddest looking people I've ever seen. There just wasn't a joy in their lives." See, Caleb's tail is wagging when he's with me. It is as happy as he can get. There is one who, whenever I leave and go away for a time, anxiously awaits my return, who focuses and looks and hopes for my coming back and waits responsibly in the meanwhile.
Can that be said of you and your Master? That you anxiously wait for his return, that you wait with your eyes focused, and that you purify yourself for his return, that he might not find you in any condition but a pleasing one upon his return? It reminds me of an old story about a church committee that went to pick up a pastor who was candidating off the train station. They walked up to this guy and said, "Are you our pastor who has come to candidate?" He said, "No, I just have a stomachache."
So many Christians are walking around like they have a stomachache because they have to serve this God. They have this big fat rule book, and the length and the breadth and the depth and the height of the relationship with God is rules. They do not understand that it's love. Are people praising your Master because of your love relationship? If you have this kind of relationship, you will be protected and your God will be praised.
The third thing that will happen is people will be prompted. If you respond, as Paul prays that you might, to the truth of Ephesians 1-3, people will be prompted to enter into a relationship like you have. I have literally eight friends who have gotten golden retrievers because of my relationship with Caleb. And guess what. Do you know why I got this one? Because of a gentleman by the name of Keith Chancey who had a golden retriever named Josh.
I said, "I'd love to have a relationship like that. I would love to have a dog that loved me the way Josh loves Keith. I would love to be able to have that example as Keith has with Josh." People will be prompted to come forward. When was the last time somebody walked up to you and asked you to give an account, to make a defense for the hope that is within you, as is the expectation of Scripture in 1 Peter 3:15, and you had a chance to respond with gentleness and reverence?
Let me tell you. Whenever I marry a couple, I always tell them there's going to be a time… In fact, we make fun of the fact that the guy's friends moving up to the wedding day are mocking him again and again. "Oh, buddy, three more days until that old ball and chain is thrown on you. Two more days and you're a dead man. She's got you wrapped." Do you know what his response should be? "No, you don't understand. It's not going to be a ball and chain."
When they do get married and their friends say, "Hey, can't go out and play ball with us tonight. Can't go watch Monday Night Football with us at Humperdinks tonight. Can't go do this with us anymore, can you?" And you know what? He says, "You know, I can't, because I'm going to go and give myself to the one I long to cherish and honor. I want to go home and take my bride and make her feel special. By the way, if I wanted to, I could go to Humperdinks. I could go play golf. I could go do this, but do you know why I don't? Because I have given my life to this woman."
In the same way that God is free to do what he wants but chooses to love you. In a very small and imperfect way, this is a picture of God's love for the church. It is the joy of my life to love her. The same way a woman is mocked at. "What in the world are you doing washing that boy's nasty underwear, making him dinner, being patient with him when he comes home late from work, tolerating the fact that he acts crazy because he's a man, being patient with him as he goes through tough times? And you adore him. When all of the other wives are talking about their husbands, why don't you ever join in and say things about your husband?"
I'll never forget the time that my wife said… She was together with a group of her friends, and she was sharing with me about some of the things they were saying about their husbands. She went down the list, and some of them I happened to know were true, things she shared that their wives had shared. Then she said, "Do you know what I shared?" I go, "Wh-wh-wh-what?" She said, "Nothing." How do you think that made me feel?
People who mock at her… I'll tell you what. She did not marry a perfect man. She married a very difficult man, but in the grace God has given her and in her desire to love me, she says, "Let me tell you something. It is not a burden for me to serve him. It's not a burden for me to submit to him in love. It's not a burden for me to wash his nasty clothes. It is the greatest joy of my life, because if you knew how much that man loved and cherished me, you too would see it as a privilege to get to do those things for him."
"By the way," she should say, "that's a picture of my relationship with Jesus Christ. There's no leash around my neck. I don't have to read God's Word. That's my time to commune with him. I don't have to share with him from the first of all my produce. That is my humble privilege. I don't have to discipline myself for the purpose of godliness. That is a right response to my love relationship. It is a very small picture," she should say, "of my love for Christ."
People will be prompted by that kind of love. They'd say, "Tell me more about that love. Tell me more about that man who loves you that way," or they'd say, "Tell me more about that God." If you have this kind of relationship, gang, you will be protected, your God will be praised, and others will be prompted to know him. Now isn't that our desire? Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised. Go ye, therefore, and make disciples.
See, gang, this prayer he lays out for us in Ephesians 3 is crucial, that we would understand… This is such a mockery, in fact, to say that this is a picture of that love. Caleb is the one I want you to see, the joy he has in being by my side. If we had time, I'd take this ball and throw it down here and have individuals come up and try to get him to go chase it. You'd watch what Caleb would do. He wouldn't go get that ball.
We could have a beautiful woman come. We could have somebody who's brilliant come and try to reason with him. We could get big strong men up here and try to intimidate him, and every time somebody would speak to him, you'd watch what Caleb would do. He would not listen to the voice of the enemy; he'd listen for the voice of his master. In fact, he'd turn away from that temptation that's prodding him and pulling him and focus on me.
A great picture for you and me. When beauty pulls you in directions, when power and intimidation is in your face, when wisdom is scoffing at your love, focus on him. Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith. Look deep into his eyes of love. Look deep into the width with which he shared himself for you and embrace him and sit and hold fast. Remain steadfast, immovable, always abounding in your love for the Lord, knowing that your love, or your toil, as Paul would say, is not in vain.
I had a friend who one time left the most convicting note I've ever received on my desk. It was when I worked at a place called Kanakuk Kamps. Caleb would go with me everywhere I'd go up there. One day, I had told Caleb to stay, and Caleb didn't stay. In fact, he had wandered off, and I spent some time looking for him. When I found him, we had a little chat. He saw me talking to Caleb. It was one of the first times, honestly, that Caleb had really messed up and done some inappropriate things in that way.
I walked up to my desk at this camp, and there was a note on my desk that I'll never forget. It said, "Todd, expect the same excellence from yourself that you expect from your dog." I asked myself, "What does my relationship look like with my Father?" There's a smile on my face a lot of the time. I happen to be a person who typically loves life.
There's not a leash around my neck. It's the joy of my life to study God's Word, to share God's Word, to be with other Christians, and to talk about him with those who don't know him, but there are a lot of times in my life when it comes to areas of obedience that I don't expect of me in that love relationship with God like I expect of Caleb.
Do you know obedience is characterized in this way? It is immediate, it is complete, and it is done with joy. When I tell Caleb to do something, I expect him to do it immediately. When I say, "Down, down," he should do it immediately. When I say, "Up, get up," when I say, "Closer," I expect him to do it right away. It's immediate, it is complete, and it should be done with a wag. That's true of you and me.
Expect the same excellence of yourself that we expect of our dogs, that we expect of others. I pray in a similar way. I say, "God, make me half the man my dog thinks I am." That's one of the ways I pray, and I thank him that he's making me completely the man I think my Master is. What a hope. He's not going to give me a little of Jesus. He is going to make me all that I think my God is, and one day I will share completely…not just positionally but in fact…the very glory of Christ. What a gift.
Can you imagine if Caleb knew that one day he'd get to grow up and be a human? I can't offer him that. God says, "Todd, I'm going to take you from your graveyard of sin and elevate you to the throne room of grace." That's love beyond what I can show you this evening. It's a love that should change your life, that should protect you, that should cause people to praise your master, and that should prompt them into a relationship with him. Let's pray.
Father, I do pray that I would be obedient not because I have to or because you'll snap a chain, not because you'll kick me, but because I love you in response to your incredible love for me. Father, I pray that my life would be different. I pray that people would praise you as they see the joy with which I serve you, that they would cock their head and go, "Tell me about your God. He must be awesome for you to live with the joy and the fervency in relationship with him that you do. Tell me about the God of the Christian."
I pray, Father, that I would always be ready, and my friends here would too, to give a defense when someone asks us to explain the hope that is within us and we would do it with gentleness and reverence. Lord, thank you that you protect us in this relationship. You protect us ultimately at the grave. You protect us from the god of this world, from the flesh, from Satan, and from the world itself, as we read in Ephesians 2.
I thank you, Father, that there is in our intimacy with you great joy, great hope, great protection. Finally, Lord, I pray that others would be prompted to know you personally, that God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ would get glory as a result of our worship of you, not just on Sunday evenings, and certainly they'll see the great love we have for you then, but all throughout the week they would see that, indeed, we have a good God who is greatly to be praised.
We make it now our prayer as we leave that we would go step-by-step and day by day praise you, that we would walk in all your ways, not with a leash around our neck but with joy in our hearts, that we might know you fully and have a wag in our tail as we walk in the manner with which we've been called. In Jesus' name, amen.
Most people are desperately looking for answers to such age-old human dilemmas as violence, greed and racism; not to mention personal pain and disappointment with our own duplicity and lack of fulfillment. In this series on the book of Ephesians, Todd Wagner challenges us to open our eyes to the truth that Christ has called us to be part of a completely new society called the Church. Our highest calling then is to be men and women whose lives have been regenerated and empowered through faith in Christ. Our 21st century challenges are not unlike those faced by followers of Christ in first century Ephesus. The Apostle Paul, author of this letter to the Ephesians, emphasizes that the problem with the Church then and today is not that God hasn't given it everything necessary to be successful in its mission. Rather, our problem is like that of a wealthy miser who dies of starvation rather than dip into the abundance of resources at his disposal. Allow yourself to be challenged and encouraged by this ancient letter that adroitly analyzes the plight of Christ's bride, the Church, and then paints a vivid portrait of what we can - and indeed do - look like as His redeemed people. This volume covers Ephesians 3:1 through Ephesians 4:32.