During this interactive service we’re seeing in all of our different environments from Downtown Dallas, Downtown Fort Worth, Plano, of course at our camp in East Texas, but also down south in Miami. What’s up guys? How are you? It’s snowing outside and this is a great, great thing.
You know, Christmas is a time for family. I mean, let’s just call it what it is. And we enjoy, most of us, hanging out with our families. Sometimes it can be a little bit crazy, a little bit freaky. I don’t know about you but I have a large family. We’ve got six people, count them, six in the Young household. Also, we’ve got six dogs. That’s right, six people and six dogs.
Now sometimes people go, “Ed, how in the world did you end up with six dogs?” I’m sure you’re wondering that right now, how in the world did you end up with a pack? Well, I’m glad you’re thinking that because I want you to meet the Young dog family. Would you like to meet them.
The first member of this family I want to introduce you to is Sweetie. Sweetie is 18 years old. We got her at a pet store. Sweetie is I think on her last legs. She’s a good dog.
The next one is Chloe. Chloe has the largest tongue in the Western Hemisphere. She is a 180-pound English Mastiff. She’s a lot of woman… Chloe. People say, man does she bite? I hate to say this but, yes she does! She only bites men, though. For some reason she has never bitten a women.
Next is Dutch. Dutch is our Doberman, and I think Dobermans are my favorite breed. We got Dutch from Arkansas. He’s intelligent, smart. We used to have his brother. His brother was so smart that he could open every single door in our house. That’s big Dutch.
After Dutch we have another cute little dog, Louie. We found Louie at a gas station. He was in a cardboard box. He looks like a Dachshund, doesn’t he? We’re not sure exactly what he is. He’s still working on house training. He’s still trying to master that. In fact, the first two gifts that Lisa and I saw this morning were gifts that he had left us in the living room.
We also have Boca. Boca is a Bull Mastiff. He hails from the windy city of Chicago. Boca is immense. He will get even larger. Big Boca.
Now this last dog, and the one I really want to talk to you today in the few short moments that remain, is a little black and brown dog named, well, I won’t tell you. Because this dog’s name sort of fits with what I’m talking about.
Here’s what happened. I was speaking at our Miami campus one Sunday. After I spoke I went to bed, got up on Monday morning at dark-thirty, and I was going to do my favorite thing in the world… fish! That’s right! You know, fishing is a Biblical sport. Everyone knows that. I was with a friend of mine and we were cruising in his truck down the Florida Turnpike.
You know, whenever I get up at dark-thirty don’t you ever wonder, “Why are all these people up so early?” Do you ever wonder that? I mean, am I the only one? You’re like, what in the heck are they doing? Where are they going, all these people?
Anyway, so I’m cruising down the Florida Turnpike, drinking my favorite drink, café con leche. Now, for those of you who are in Miami you’re going, “He’s singin’ my song.” Café con leche is the greatest coffee drink in the history of the world. If you’ve never tried make sure to try it but make sure a Cuban is making it, it’s that good! It will change your life!
Anyway, I exited off the Florida Turnpike and I found myself at this intersection, a very busy intersection, and I was turning left underneath the freeway. I had my blinker on, staring ahead, looking at the intersection and thinking about all the different people who were flying by. You know when you’re stopped at an intersection you don’t really think that people are looking inside the car. And people do crazy thing. Watch them. Women put on makeup, fix their hair. Guys are always the proverbial nose-pickers. We just don’t think anyone sees us because we’re enclosed in a vehicle. It’s kind of funny!
So, I’m sitting there, the light’s getting ready to change from red to green. All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I see a little figure scamper across the intersection. I go, “It’s a dog!” And I see what’s gonna happen. He’s gonna get hit. I mean he’s a nanosecond away from crossing Jordan, from clocking out, if you feel me. So I told my friend, I go,
“Open the door and call that dog! Call him!” So he opened the door and he’s like, come here, come here, come here! Now we have the moment of truth. What did this little black and brown dog do? Did he keep running or did he spin on his paws and turn and come to us? The dog came to us! It was incredible! He came to us and my friend scooped him up and right when he scooped him up the light changed from red to green and I said,
“Throw him in the truck! Throw him in the truck!” So he just kind of tossed him up on the dashboard, we slammed the door, and we were off! We turned the dome lights on in the car and here’s a little scared, skinny dog, gum matted through all of his fur. Obviously he had been out for a long, long time, wandering around for who knows how long and we’re like, this is crazy! And I said,
“You know what? Let’s just take the dog fishing. Let’s just take him fishing out on the boat.” So sure enough we did. We fished and fished and fished. He even fell in the water while we were fishing and we rescued him again. And you know how it is, you’re calling, “Here boy, here boy!” and we know we’ve got to call this dog something. So we’re tossing names around. Freeway. Nah. Exit. Nah. Cuba (be we’re close to Cuba). Nah. And I said,
“I’ve got it! I know the name! I have got the name we’re gonna call this dog! We’re gonna call him Level! Because when we saved his life he went to a ‘Hole Nutha Level!” Yeah, Level, Level. The dog who was rescued at an intersection. In this crowd, in this environment, and also at all our other environments we have a kaleidoscopic range of people. I mean we have people from all walks of life. All colors, all stripes, all socioeconomic levels. A lot like that intersection off the Florida Turnpike. All different people just stopping, going, cruising, honking their horn, turning right, turning left, doing all that.
Think about the first Christmas. I mean there was a serious cast of characters in Luke 2. Have you ever thought about the kaleidoscopic range of people who were there? Like Mary and Joseph. Mary and Joseph, they had everything planned out. They were engaged, they were gonna get married. They were gonna have a little house, picket fence, 2.5 kids. But God interrupted their whole deal. She came up pregnant.
Here’s what I have discovered about God. So often life’s interruptions are merely introduction to take us to whole new level of living. So maybe, just maybe, you’re experiencing some sort of interruption today. Watch out because God wants to use it as an introduction.
Herod. Remember King Herod? This guy was hard-hearted. He was sovereignly ruling over the universe of his life. He was like, “I am the king of my life.” I have that tendency, don’t you? To run the show. I want to be who I want to be. I’m gonna autonomously do what I am wired to do. Who cares about God? Who cares about this or that? I’m just gonna do what I’ve gotta do. King Herod. Do we have any King Herods in the house?
The wise men were some other people who were interesting. They were seekers. They were seeking truth. They were sincerely investigating the claims of Christ and they found themselves at the manger. They found themselves at this intersection, the intersection between God’s purpose and man’s path. God always provides an intersection, doesn’t he, to people who are truly investigating Him. And God provided this intersection, this intersection of Jesus himself. And I love what the scripture says about the wise men. The wise men worshipped the Lord, then it says they left by another route. I love that! Because true worship is an intersection thing. And if we truly express our love to God we’re always gonna leave by another route.
Your marriage, because of worship, should take another route. The way you parent should take another route. Single adult, the way you date, the way you leverage your time and energy should take another route. Do we have any wise men or wise women in the house?
Remember the shepherds? They were out there, pulling an all-nighter, sipping café con leche maybe, I don’t know. They had this angelic interaction. They freaked out with fear. A lot of us deal with fear. Fear is real. I love what fear means: False evidence appearing real. We face our fear, we should. They faced their fear and it found them running to the manger and then they met Jesus and then began to tell others about him.
So I could go on and on through the cast of characters, the kaleidoscopic range of people who were there during that first Christmas. It’s a lot like a lot of us.
You know, what’s so neat about this story regarding Level as I do some more introspection is the simple reality that Level had a choice in the matter. I thought about that because you know, on the surface it seems like a simple rescue story of a dog, but when you really think about it it’s the story of Christmas. It’s due to the fact, check this out, that God left his level to come to our level to take us from our level to his level. God moved from there to here to take us from here to there. In a real way he’s opened the door of Heaven, told Jesus to extend his hand, to call us by name, to invite us to jump into his arms. That’s the message of Christmas!
Level had a choice in the matter. Yeah, we choice in the matter. We’re stopped, “Pick the dog up! Call him!” We chose him, but Level chose us. And there is no way we can wrap our little pea-brains around where does choice end and free will begin and election start. I mean, God chooses you and me, and he wants the best for us, right? But within it, we have a decision to make. So, I want to ask you, have you made a decision? Have you take that step? Have you jumped into the arms of Jesus? That’s a choice that I cannot make for you or you cannot make for me. You’ve just gotta do it.
Lostness. Do you ever get lost? I have a terrible sense of direction, the worst ever. My wife has a great sense of direction. When she rides with me she’s like, “Left… right… accelerate… stop… blinker…” I mean, I’m cool with it. But when I’m by myself I get into serious trouble. Because I will get lost like that. It’s pitiful, absolutely horrendous! Here’s what I discovered about being lost. When you’re lost you don’t really realize you’re lost until someone either tells you or you realize, whoa. I’m lost. It’s like being confused. You don’t know you’re confused because if you knew you were confused you wouldn’t be confused? See, someone has to tell you, dude, you’re confused man!
Level was lost. In his doggie brain he thought he was free. He was like, “Man, I’m free! I’m just cruising around south Florida, free! I’ve got some gum on my chest, everything is fine. I haven’t eaten in a long time but I’m free!” He was just moments away from an ugly collision at that intersection. His lostness led him to what? To be found.
And here’s one of the cool things about God. You know, God uses our lostness to lead us to him. Think back, those of you who are followers of Christ. Think back to a time in your life when you were lost. Remember that? When you were trying to find your way. When you were trying this or that. And maybe you didn’t realize you were lost but one day you figured out, man, I’m lost! You were wandering around at dark-thirty, you know, like Level was. Gum matted to your fur or whatever, looking around, and all of a sudden you felt God calling your name. All of a sudden you had this intersection. Maybe it was a person, maybe it was an event, maybe it was some sort of a Bible study or church service, something caused this intersection to play out in your life. And that something is really someone. It’s God, Himself. It didn’t just happen by chance. You’re not hear by chance. The God of the universe orchestrated this beautiful collision. You can’t ignore the fact that we’re at an intersection right now. It’s a brief one, maybe an hour and four minutes, I think to be exact, but it’s from God, Himself. It’s the purpose of God intersecting with the path of man.
So if you are a follower of Christ just thank God for rescuing you. Have you ever done that? Thank God for that person or that event or that situation that led you into that personal connectivity with God. Thank him for it.
Now, some here are lost. You didn’t know it when you walked in but you’re like, “Man, I think I’m lost!” We have some people here who are lost. And all of us have either been lost or we are lost. Again, I will give you the great news of Christmas. God left his level to come to our level, to bring us from our level to his level. He opened the door of Heaven. He commissioned Christ to live a perfect life, to die a sacrificial death, to rise again, and now Jesus is extending his nail-pierced hand to you. That’s right, to you! He’s calling you by name. He’s coaxing you. And you’ve got a choice to make. It’s either gonna be a beautiful collision when you’re wrecked by his grace and mercy, or it’s gonna be a brutal collision.
You know what’s so weird about being lost and this whole thing about searching on our own for meaning and fulfillment in life? One of the weird things about it is that usually in our search for liberation, in our search for freedom, that thing that we search for that we think will give us true freedom, in reality it incarcerates us, dominates us, and controls us.
Tiger Woods. Billionaire. One of the greatest athletes on planet earth. Smart, intelligent, articulate, married with two kids. What does Tiger do? Tiger decides, you know what? I’m running the show. He’s got all this cash, all this power, he begins to chase women. And everything is going great for a while. And that’s the way it is when we shake our puny fist in God’s face and do what we want to do. For a while everything is cool. It’s going, man! But look at Tiger now.
“Yeah, he’s lost millions!” I’m not talking about that.
“Yeah, people don’t look up to him like they did.” I’m not talking about that. Look what he has done to his life, to his marriage, to his kids. We need to pray for him. Obviously, God wants to forgive him and rescue him and all that. But I’m saying, you begin to go your own way and do your own things and it’s gonna be fine for a while. But you’re facing a brutal collision.
Some of you are like, yeah, Ed, I feel you. I’ve had that collision, I’ve had this collision. I’ve tried this or that. God wants to meet you right where you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re Tiger Woods or Tom Smith, or Tina Smith. God wants to meet you right where you are. We all either are lost or have been lost. And the great news of Christmas is that God sent Jesus to dwell among us.
John 1:14 – And the Word became flesh and lived here on planet earth. Jesus said in John 10:9, he said, “I am the door.” Isn’t that interesting? “I am it,” he was saying. “If anyone, if any one enters through me, Jesus said, they’re saved.” You could say rescued. They go in and out, that means they’re safe, we’re safe. We’re adopted into the family of God. Then we’re satisfied. We have true freedom within the guidelines and guardrails that God puts up. He has put them up in our lives for a reason. The way we treat others, the way we treat members of the opposite sex, the way we deal with marital issues and parenting challenges, the way we handle everything in this world, God has these guidelines and guardrails because God has the best for you and me. And this is the owner’s manual. And we’re wired for this relationship. But again, God doesn’t force it, we choose it. He has chosen you, he’s chosen me. We either choose to respond to that love or not.
Now some of you are already going, “Ed, man, you left me in the lurch with Level. Did you just leave this dog? I mean, did you just leave the whole scene of the crime with this dog and you never turned to look for any signs or any young kid going, ‘Where’s my dog? Where’s my dog?’ I mean, you just picked him up and took him fishing, and that was it?” No, that’s not it. Because I decided to go back to the exact location, you’ll see there, where I found Level. And I searched for a couple of days. I mean not all day but I went back for several days and looked for signs, looked for someone who had this dog or saw someone with this dog. No one knew anything about the dog. So, officially we adopted Level into our family and he went to a Ho-Ho-Ho Notha Level! Because he went from the streets to our house.
We’ve got six members, six human beings who give him affection 24/7. I mean, Level lives large. He sleeps in our chairs. He sleeps with Lisa and I almost every night. He’s well-fed. He’s like he’s on a cruise, man. Food is available all the time for him. You talking about friends, he runs with the big dogs, man! He’s got a serious posse! He doesn’t know he’s that small.
We have some acreage where we live and we have a fence around it. Now, Level knows that he has the ultimate life if he stays within the fence. But he also knows, he thinks, once he gets outside the fence he just has some serious freedom in his life and existence. As you know that’s not really true because he’s gotten out a couple of times and he does stupid things. He’s almost gotten killed, he’s almost gotten run over a couple of times when he’s gotten outside the fence.
I think we’re all the same way, aren’t we? We’re like, “Oh, I will just climb the fence. I know better than God. I will just do what I want to do. We’ll go after this, we’ll go after that or whatever.” What does God do? Well, God adopts you and me. He pours out his affection upon us. You’re one out of six billion. God loves you. He feed us. We can feed on his word and his truths and he provides relationships. I mean, we can run with the big dogs. We can hook into the only institution that God ever built, that Jesus ever built, the local church. It’s the literal hands and feet or our Lord.
So we’re adopted. We’re rescued. Then God shows us, OK here are the parameters. Here’s the fence. We’re safe, we’re rescued, we can go in and out. We’re safe. We can find pasture, that means true fulfillment. It’s the only way to live. But again, I can’t make a decision for you. You have got to make it.
You know, I was thinking, too, about this. Think about the cross. The cross is the ultimate intersection, isn’t it? There’s a vertical piece to it and a horizontal piece. And here we are, we’re living our lives, and what did God do? God moved from his level to our level. Jesus was born in a manger, an ordinary piece of farm furniture, lived a righteous life, a pure life, died on the cross for our sins, something we’ll never deserve, rose again, and now he offers us eternal life. He offers us membership in his family. He offers us affection, nourishment, sustenance. It’s unreal.
So this Christmas, I want to challenge you to take the hand of Jesus. He’s calling your name. Because he wants to take you, friends, to a Ho-Ho-Ho Nutha Level!