On Monday, I was driving out of my neighborhood to go to a meeting when I saw a small dog running past me going the opposite direction. Dogs in my neighborhood do not generally run around – they are walked – and I could tell this was definitely an inside dog.  I stopped and tried to get the dog, but the little one just kept on running.  I knew that I wouldn’t like myself very much if I went ahead to the meeting and came back to find the dog laying dead on the road.  So I turned around and with the help of a couple neighborhood kids and another man caught the little guy – actually a girl – named Sweetie!

Sweetie’s dog tag had an address from the other side of town and a phone number.  “How in the world did you get way over here?”  I called the number, but I just go an answering machine.  So I grabbed a dog crate from my house and headed to my meeting with Sweetie in tow.  No return call before, during, or after my meeting.  When I got home it was dark, and I’m thinking that I will just have to figure this out tomorrow.  Before taking Sweetie in for the night I grabbed a leash in hopes that the dog would use the bathroom outside and not in my house.  As I’m walking back toward the house with the dog behind me, I suddenly realize that there is no longer any tension!  I turn around, and I all I have is the leash with the entire dog collar including the identification tag!  “Oh no!”  I look around the other side of the truck and yard – no dog – I look up the road and there is Sweetie – booking it.  So I take off after her IN FLIP-FLOPS…I had already played basketball and mowed a lawn so I don’t have much in the tank and this little dog is fast.  So the rest of this is like something out of a movie – I’m yelling at a car to stop that is about to run her over.  I lose track of the dog at one point and don’t see which way it went, the dog ends up running across 5 lanes of traffic, several motorist point me in the right direction, and people are looking at me like I’m crazy because I’m at a full sprint in flip-flops.  A 1/2 mile later from when we started running, I finally catch up to Sweetie in the Wendy’s drive-thru.  She is now safe once again.  After some detective work the next day, I was able to track down the person who was in charge of watching Sweetie while the owner was on a cruise.  The son-in-law who is a local police officer called to thank me and told me that Sweetie was a “rescue dog” and that she is an escape artist…with a history of running away.  In his opinion, this cute, little, dog is very fortunate to still be alive.

I’ve been reflecting some this week about Sweetie, and how I have observed that many people are the same as Sweetie – running away from the Person or people who are trying to help.  Ever since I was old enough and spiritually mature enough to understand it I have seen people run away from Jesus.  They think they are wise and are doing what is best for them – but they run from Jesus and into the Enemy’s trap.  It is only by the grace of God that more are not utterly crushed.  I’ve also noticed over the last 15 years the tendency of people to run from the truth tellers and spiritual helpers in their lives.  In western culture it is in large part due to the drastic individuality we are taught to embrace. “Whatever makes you feel good is right for you,” and “You don’t have to listen to anyone but yourself,” are the mantras of our culture.  The extreme emphasis on the individual is a great hindrance toward healthy churches in the west today.  So, if you are being like Sweetie, STOP, and let Jesus grab you with His gentle and scarred hands and let Him embrace you deep into His love.

Please take a few minutes to read and meditate on the following verses:

Judges 17:6, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Praise Jesus for His sacrifice for us!)

I Timothy 1:1-2, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron…”

Hebrews 13:17, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”

Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Thank you for taking the time to read and reflect, and may God use this for His glory and honor.

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The questions:
Am I right with God?
Is Jesus currently sitting in His rightful place as king of my heart and life?
Am I doing the basic things that a follower of Jesus should be doing?
Am I loving God with all that I am?
Am I more concerned with the things of God or am I more concerned with the things of myself?
Am I loving my neighbor as myself?
Do I put the needs of others on an equal or higher place than my own needs?
Have I dealt with sin in my life so that I am striving for holiness?
Can I say that I have no known and unconfessed sin in my life?

Beginning my Bible reading this year in the book of Isaiah, it is easy to see that God has always been holy and forgiving. Read Isaiah 1:15-20.

15 When you spread out your hands,
I will hide My eyes from you;
Even though you make many prayers,
I will not hear.
Your hands are full of blood.
16 “ Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.
Cease to do evil,
17 Learn to do good;
Seek justice,
Rebuke the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow.
18 “ Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the LORD, “ Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
You shall eat the good of the land;
20 But if you refuse and rebel,
You shall be devoured by the sword”;
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Now surely we are not actively pursuing personal gain by oppressing people. As a church we are “learning to do good; seeking justice, rebuking the oppressors, defending the fatherless, and pleading for the widows.” However, we must always strive to have God as #1 in our lives and live in such a way that we can be confident that we aren’t just giving lip service to a set of good ideas and beliefs, but that our hearts are right before God.

If you have not been made right with God in a final sense, then you need to understand that there is nothing you can do to save yourself because just like everyone else you are a sinner and a spiritual failure. You need to recognize your need for Jesus to save you from your sins because He is the only one who can. You need to tell him you are sorry for all the bad things you have done and for the unholy person you are and thank Him that He died on the cross for your sins and rose from the dead. If you genuinely put your faith in Jesus then you are what we call born again – a saved person – a believer – a saint. You can now expect the world to call you crazy.

Now let me remind you that those who are redeemed by the grace of God through faith have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We have such an advantage over those who the prophet Isaiah was speaking to. We have the Holy Spirit living within us, and we have the complete Word of God. If you are consistently in the Word of God and in prayer then your sins should be obvious to you (Hebrews 4:12-16). 12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.  14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

As a safeguard our lives should be open books within the church, and we need to give others the freedom to call us out when they see us in error.

We have the opportunity to always have very short accounts of our sins. Do we realize that we should always be able to go to bed at night with no unconfessed sin? How is this possible? Well if you have sinned in such a way that only God is offended, then you only need to confess to God and you know that Jesus is your Great High Priest. (Examples – you let your mind dwell on sinful thoughts of pride or lust). If you have sinned against your brother or sister through your words or your actions, you ask for forgiveness from that person and from God. In the days that we live with cell phones and email, we normally have no excuse for not making it right the very same day!

Even if by a hardness of heart we went a few days with unconfessed sin, surely having the bread and cup before us, representing the body and blood of our Savior would drive us to confess. For we know with certainty he who eats and drinks the bread and cup with knowingly unconfessed sin eats and drinks judgment to himself (I Cor. 10:13-17, 11:23-34).

10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 17 For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.

11:23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.  27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.
33 Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come.

Participating in the communion is a testament that we are right with God, that we have our heart and our priorities in order, that we being multiple people show that we are one body of Christ (the church) as we take the bread. We are testifying that we have no unconfessed sin before God, and that as much as depends on us we are right with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and that our testimony to the world is solid. It is something that surely we should take with seriousness for we will be held accountable. And if there is something that we need to confess or do before we can partake of it – then we should be focused on taking care of that quickly – because what a dreadful thing to not be in a place where you can remember the Lord as He asked.

Being right with God has both a personal and communal aspect. Here is a reminder of what dcf as a church family is!

We are group of people drawn together by God for God’s glory. Jesus is the head of this church. He is the Chief Shepherd. The elders (Acts 20:28) are responsible to shepherd the flock, the deacons are to help serve and meet needs as they are appointed by the elders. The members are to be equipped and to do the work of the ministry as co-workers with Jesus, the elders and deacons. Our responsibility as a whole is to be obedient to Jesus, to love God, the believers, and the lost, to seek justice and to live in such a way as to help others. We praise God for all He gave us in 2008 and all the good works He enabled us to participate in. We boldly ask for much more for 2009 as we are stirred to love and good works. Let us pray!

Claire and I laughed and laughed when we saw this giant ladder on this little Mazda Miata as we were driving on the interstate.  When the engineers at Mazda were designing the Miata, I highly doubt they were thinking, “It can be a utility vehicle to carry around large ladders.” 

Yet many people in life find themselves in a similar predicament.  What they were created for and their current life do not match up at all.  Ephesians 2:10 states, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  You see God has created each one of us and has given us unique places in time and history and unique gifts to use.  When we are living life according to our own rules and desires we step outside of God’s plan and go out on our own.  How foolish to think we could know better than God what is best for the future.  

So how can we make sure that we do not go through life like a Miata carrying a ladder?

1.  Make sure you truly know God through faith in His Son Jesus.  Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” 

2.  Read the Bible consistently with an open heart and mind.  II Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

3.  Pray daily seeking to grow closer to God. Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” 

4.  Repent of things in your life that you know don’t please God.  Ephesians 4:22-24, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

5.  Be involved in a local church where you have godly fellowship and accountability. Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

6.  Seek Godly counsel.  Proverbs 15:22, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”

7.  Act on what you know is right.  James 1:22-25, Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.”

If you know Jesus and are consistently doing 2-7, I believe you will get on and stay true to the plan God has for you.  Remember in that great exchange we get to give Jesus the unwieldy burdens that we have picked up along the way and only carry what He gives us.  “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

We must come to the realization that unless we are living according to God’s plan, then we cannot fully love Him and love our neighbors as He created us to do.  If your life does not line up with what God created you for, will you give up your plan and take on His?