Dear Friend in Christ:
This month, I want to open Scripture and my heart about unconditional love and presence. To do so, I want to talk a little bit about our family dog, Sparty, who sadly passed away a few days ago at age 13 after a wonderful life. Can an old dog really teach us anything about life, love, and relationships? I believe so.
Like my wife, Susanne, my dad, and my grandma, our Sparty boy was born in Louisiana. When he was six weeks old, we were finally able to meet him. We crossed over the coffee-colored bayous and drove down quiet backroads surrounded by moss-covered trees until we turned onto a dirt lane leading to a large sugar cane field. The August air was thick and heavy with heat, humidity, and the salty breezes of the nearby Gulf of Mexico.
He was a small puppy with a big grin on his face, stubborn determination, and a frisky sense for adventure. Sparty was delighted to take his first car ride home. He greeted us with hugs and kisses and immediately settled happily into my wife’s lap for the four-hour ride. When we arrived, my Dad and daughter were there to greet us. My daughter named him Spartacus Maximus, already sensing greatness in that little ball of yellow Labrador fur.
How could such a tiny fellow so quickly occupy such a huge part of our lives? He followed us everywhere. When he got into mischief, which was constant, we couldn’t be mad at him for more than a few seconds. He ate like a horse … a hungry horse with two stomachs. Soon he weighed more than 80 pounds and he could gallop like the wind!
Sparty came to us during a prolonged and especially difficult season in our lives. I’ve always said that dogs are one of the ways God shows us He loves us. Sparty was indeed a gift to us from the Lord. During days of loss of loved ones, sickness, and profound discouragement, Sparty was a constant comfort. And when some people abandoned us, spread rumors, and spoke harshly against us, Sparty stuck with us and showed unconditional love. If Susanne cried, he was always there to dry her tears and give her hugs. When she was sick, he was an attentive nurse. As kind as he was, he was also a fierce watchdog, ready to defend us with his life.
At night, he insisted on jumping up into our bed to sleep. We fought him on this, but his stubborn insistence on being near and cuddling with us overcame our objections. He scrambled the sheets, hogged the space, snored, and kicked in his sleep. But when he would lay his big friendly head on my feet, it always made me smile and kept my toes warm.
Of course, he was close to my dad and daughter as well. Even after my daughter moved out, he kept looking for her, and jumped for joy whenever she’d visit. He got along famously with Dad, who he knew as “Grandpa.” Dad loved Sparty, and they loved to throw the ball together. Dad also spoiled Sparty, fixing him breakfast each day, including a few bites of apple fritter. Many of the letters and articles you’ve read from Dad—many sermons he prepared—were done with Sparty laying down at his feet while he worked.
Sparty became famous, with a following on social media. Whenever we would travel for ministry, people always asked about him. Our extended family and CSM team loved him, too, and were his cherished buddies. Sometimes folks came over just to visit him. Whenever we would join hands in a prayer circle, Sparty always wanted to be a part. Can a dog be spiritually sensitive? Theologians can debate that, but I already know the answer.
THE ROAD HOME
Last year, Sparty began to slow noticeably and experienced health problems. Sparty’s veterinarian loved him, as did all of the vet’s staff; they shared our concerns about Sparty’s condition. Then this past July, he was diagnosed with inoperable cancer that was spreading rapidly. We showered him with affection and did all we could to make him comfortable. He ate more fritters and cuddled with his stuffed animal toys, especially his Blue Shark, which Dad had given him.
And then, a few days ago, we had to make the difficult and heartbreaking decision to put him to sleep. He was suffering and was at last giving up. We carried him in a blanket and laid him tenderly in the back of my car. Because it was the weekend, we had to take him to an emergency veterinarian. It was a much shorter ride than his first one, but it seemed so much longer. I could barely see the road through my tears.
The beautiful song “Thy Will” by Hillary Scott and the Scott Family came on the radio: “It’s hard to count it all joy, distracted by the noise, just trying to make sense of all Your promises. Sometimes I gotta stop, remember that You’re God, and I am not, so … Thy will be done.” It was a song Sparty listened to often with Susanne while she worked; he loved music. The peace of God flooded our car as we rode down the silent Saturday streets.
Sparty lay down in the back, barely able to raise his head. But our route took us past his vet’s office, and as we drove by, Sparty suddenly bolted upright, and looked plaintively through the window, one last time, for a few moments; then, he quietly settled back down again. How did he know where we were?
His death was peaceful and painless, except for the crushing weight on our hearts. Yet, even in that moment, we were overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude to God for sharing Sparty with us. I asked the Lord, as I have in times past, “I don’t know if there is a Heaven for dogs, but if there is, please take Sparty there.”
I think God loves dogs. I believe He loves the creatures He made, except for the fire ants currently infesting our house. Amazingly, He places even greater value on human beings – created in His image – above all His creation, though we surely do not deserve it. I can understand why God loves dogs, but sometimes I am mystified by His love for me, or even for humanity.
In Romans 5, the apostle Paul says something amazing about God’s unconditional love in Christ Jesus. “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Romans 5:6-11).
“While we were still sinners,” Paul says. Not after we straightened up. Not after we were clean, lovely, and lovable. Not once we had something to offer Him. No! While we were still totally unlovely and unlovable, Jesus Christ loved us and gave His life for us, so that we could be reconciled to Him and freed from sin; so that we could be healed in our brokenness and receive joy instead of sorrow.
He came to us out of His own Sovereign grace and initiative. And even then, it was His own loving-kindness that drew us to Him; apart from His Spirit calling us, we could have never seen His outstretched hand of salvation. The Lord spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you” (Jeremiah 31:3). His eternal love called to us before we even knew Who He is; while we were still in rebellion to His ways.
The more we can recognize and remember His grace to us, the more we are compelled to demonstrate this kind of love to those around us … even some we may consider to be enemies. Certainly, this revelation changes our perspective on those who do not yet know Him and do not walk in His ways; to those who may look differently, think differently, worship differently (or not at all), vote differently, or have differing life priorities.
We want to restore the generational bridge in our lifetimes. How can we do that? I would suggest two simple keys:
Unconditional Love – Start with love as your heart motive. Ask God to give you the same love that He has for other generations. Our aim is not to “own” someone in a debate or perpetrate coercive conversion, but to authentically demonstrate His love; to share bread with the hungry as a witness rather than a manipulative lure into our agenda or program. Rejoice in serving someone who cannot serve you. When we love with God’s love, we will see the miracle of what God’s love can do.
Presence – Be intentional about initiating times of fellowship. Sometimes, that happens over a meal, or along the road, or in a task together. Maybe it’s an act of kindness or just a shoulder to cry on. Presence can happen one-to-one or in a small group. And, it doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of talking and instructing on our part; often, it just means listening intently with an open heart and mind. Compassionate silence is more effective than preachy pontification. Just be there.
The Lord God Himself, Maker of Heaven and Earth, offers these gifts to us. Even dear old Sparty boy, in his own imperfect way, offered these blessings to our family. What could happen if we offered this to a lost and despairing world? What if Christians became known as a “safe place” for people to trust and find rest and comfort? Is that how the world sees us right now? I think not. We’ve got some work to do.
Maybe we need less of us telling God what to do, or even telling the world what we think they should do, and more humility, grace, and kindness. We must prepare the way of the Lord in our own hearts. Real revival begins with repentance.
We continue to work here at CSM and across the world to shine the light of God’s Love and His Word among the nations. May I humbly ask you to remember CSM in your prayers and in your giving this month? (See information below and on the card enclosed.) Many people are under intense pressure to give to political campaigns and other causes. Our heart is not to pressure anyone, but to invite those who feel led by the Holy Spirit to support us. If you are unable to give at this time, you can pray for us and invite others to do so.
You do not have to give anything to receive ministry from us. But when you do, you equip us to reach many others. Visit us online at csmpublishing.org, on our Charles Simpson Ministries Facebook Page, our CSMPublishing YouTube Channel, or on X (Twitter) @CSMinPublishing.
Plan now for our annual CSM Gatlinburg Conference, April 30-May 2, 2024: “Restoring the Generational Bridge.” More information to come! Thank you for your friendship!
STEPHEN SIMPSON is the Editor of One-to-One Magazine and the Director of CSM Publishing. In addition to publishing ministry, Stephen has served in leadership for churches and ministries in Costa Rica, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, and Michigan, as well as being the Senior Pastor of Covenant Church of Mobile (2004-2013). He continues to travel in ministry across North America and in other nations.