The right words can mean the difference between life and death.

A few days ago, my wife took our dog with her to pick up a neighbor kid from school. When the van door opened, the dog unexpectedly jumped out of the van and bolted down the sidewalk.

If it’s me, I’m yelling, “Get back here NOW!”

Thankfully, it was my wife. She’s much cooler under pressure. With kids filling the sidewalk, cars searching for parking places, and potential doggy peril all around, she calmly called, “Wanna go for a ride?”

Going for a ride is as exciting as a bowl of bacon for our dog. That pooch stopped in her tracks, turned around and high-tailed it back to the van.

I’ve heard you can catch more flies with honey; apparently, you can catch more dogs with car rides.

As my wife told me this story, I was thinking about how badly this might have turned out. Our pup could have easily dashed into the street or bowled over a student in the snow. Like most pet owners, we’ve grown quite close to our pup. Losing her or seeing her hurt someone accidentally would be awful.

If we can care so much about our pets, how much more does God care about us? What happens when we go off the leash and bolt from His care?

My first thought is that He’s angry, yelling at me to “Get back here, NOW you mangy mutt of a man!” But more often than not, God’s words are more like my wife’s words to our dog: a caring call to come back and go for a ride.

Which is both gracious and truthful.

God has something better planned for us when we ride with Him. It might feel good to run all over life like a dog free from the leash. But we wind up hurting ourselves and hurting others when we flee from Him.

I read about a man who found himself in that exact situation. He had betrayed his friends and family by doing business with a national enemy. He had hurt others to help himself. This guy was wreaking havoc like a dog in an antique shop.

If God ever got close to him, what would you expect to happen? Maybe the Almighty would give him a swift kick and a few choice words, or grab him by the scruff of the neck, drag him off, and sentence him to a concrete slab and some chain link fence.

That’s not what happened, though. As the story goes, God spotted this guy and said, “Let’s do lunch.”

The man’s name was Zaccheus. After years of running away from God, he came back to his maker on that memorable day — not because Jesus scolded him but because Jesus called to him with grace and truth. (His story is in Luke 19:1–10)

He calls to every one of us, no matter how much hurt we’ve endured or caused, because “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

When your life has gone off the leash, how do you imagine God calling out to you? Is His voice full of fury and threats or is He calmly calling you back to His side? Zaccheus is one of the countless people who have heard the call and decided life is better when you’re riding with the Master.

Gregg Madsen is the Lead Pastor of Steadfast Gretna. Reach him at

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.