|Now the kingdom of God is like a gas station.
Back when God decided to begin making automobiles, He set up the universe's only service station. Since it was the only one, and God had made all the cars in the first place, it was the natural place to go. The work was inexpensive - all God required was allegiance and love - and guaranteed.
Then came competition - in the guise of Sam Satan. God wasn't too worried. After all He had made it all, including Sam. It was He who had given Sam his start. Taught him everything he knew. But Sam had ideas of his own. He wasn't content working with God and he wanted out. So he left.
God's Good Gas was a rather nondescript place on an out-of-the~way straight, but narrow, road. It was built for the business of keeping cars running right, and was not at all showy. It attracted hardly any attention. Besides, the humans were in too much of a hurry to use this narrow, little-traveled road. So they built super highways, eight lanes in each direction, to help get them to the places they were in such a frantic fit to get to. To get gas at God's, they had to exit the freeway, slow down, and drive more sedately than they cared to.
Sam, being shrewd but not all that competent when it came to cars, decided that location was the name of the game. So he had his station built right in the middle of the sixteen lanes of the biggest freeway around. He installed wide exits and entrance ramps leading from the freeway to his station to the freeway again. The building itself was made of the most gleaming white porcelain steel that ever graced a service station. Thousands of brightly colored festive flags festooned the entrance, whipping in the wind. Row upon row of gasoline pumps stood like toy soldiers at attention atop a child's chest of drawers. And there were giveaways, too. None of the NFL matchbook sets or TV trays covered in genuine simulated leather-look vinyl, either. No, sir. Sam's folks offered your heart's desire. And to top it all, there was the sign. Towering a hundred feet in the air, it was a marvel. Perched on top were the proud words Satan's Place. The Great Gas Giveaway wars had begun.
Very few folks realized how bad Satan's Place was. All they saw was that it was easy to get to, looked nice, and offered great prizes. Beneath the shiny surface the place was a farce. Built hurriedly out of second-rate and worse materials, the exterior was only a covering that hid a lack of substance in the building. Sam himself was only a caricature of a car mechanic. He hadn't been with God long enough to really learn anything. But he thought he knew it all. That is why he wanted to be on his own. He was tired of being the hired hand. He'd show God.
As little as Sam knew, his workers knew even less. They didn't know a screwdriver from the horns on their heads. The gas in the pumps was watered down, the oil they used had already been used in another car, and the rest rooms were really filthy. There was never any work done on a car, though the customer was told there was. Which meant that they had to come more and more often to get the car fixed. Which it never was.
Sam relied on his location and his charm to get people to come in. And his credit system. "Buy now, pay later" was the motto. No matter that God's original warranty was for the life of the car. That made service almost free. But Satan had the giveaways. "A little sex, some booze or drugs? Name what you want, cousin. Here, take and enjoy." So people took, got in their cars, and rambled on down the road. The car still didn't run right, but who cared? Let's bring it in tomorrow and have it worked on and get some more goodies. Sam Satan came across as a good old boy. God didn't extend credit to the humans, now did He? Everyone soon forgot about God's place. No one really noticed (probably because it was written in invisible ink) Sam's 1000 percent interest-compounded hourly.
Soon, due to lack of service, the cars would break down. Satan's helpers then came to collect. Since no one had the kind of money Sammy's bill came to, they'd just take the owner's soul instead. After all, the fine print, but not in invisible ink for a change, said they could. So they did. This happened all the time. But the others tried not to notice. Don't want to miss the giveaways you know.
Meanwhile, God's place kept working on the few cars that did keep coming in. His factory trained mechanics made sure that each auto continued to run like new. The owners were happy and automobile ownership was like it was meant to be.
But God was sad. He was happy enough for those smart enough to still stop by, but His heart was breaking for those who went to Satan's Place. Tears rolled down His cheeks when He saw yet another of His once-shiny creations now rusted and ruined being hauled off to the junkyard, its owner bankrupt. He had to do something. Then the idea came. The greatest giveaway of them all. A graceful warranty.
God decided that while people knew the rules about keeping their cars running right, many of them some-how just couldn't seem to follow them. So He decided to give them another chance. Whichever of the humans brought their autos into God's place would find their debts to Satan canceled and their cars set to running right-forever. All they had to do was come in, say they were sorry for the auto abuse, and begin God's service again.
What God needed was a way to get the word out to the people.
God sent John D. Baptist out to the freeway. Then he stood in the middle of Sam Satan's Place and hollered out what God had told him to say. "Make ready the Lord's road, for the Great Giveaway is a coming." Now, John was a sort of backwoods mechanic God had trained, not very tactful or long on grammar, but he got people's attention. They stopped what they were doing, got out of their cars, and came over to listen. His announcement had them all abuzz. Finally John said, "That Great Giveaway I've been a tellin' you all about? Well, here it is."
And out stepped Jesus.
And Jesus said, "Here I am, take Me. As the only Son of the Manufacturer and a master mechanic myself, I'll make your old cars like new. I'll make them run and run abundantly. I'll fix them so that they'll run forever. All you have to do is accept My Daddy's offer." The crowd went wild. Just think, to never have a car problem again. Then Jesus spoke again. This time a little more quietly, but just as forcefully. "But you've got to promise to let Me be your only mechanic." The crowd fell quiet. People shuffled their feet. Then one by one the sound of starters shattered the silence. Tires crunched the gravel berm and shushed down the highway. Only a few remained. These were hard sayings.
This time God didn't cry alone. Jesus shared His tears. Those who dared to stay behind found that life seemed a lot more meaningful. Though the change in the car from the first tune-up was radical, it was only a beginning. Every day the car seemed to run stronger and smoother. The drives on God's road, though not as fast, were exciting. Since the landscape was no longer merely a sideline blur on the way from one smog-filled metropolis to another, the beauty of creation came to be enjoyed. The drivers found they liked clear air, cool water, birds singing, and long talks with God and other travelers. Life got sweeter as the miles went by. God's place isn't hard to find. It's just always off from most of the traffic. It's still open, too.
And the Great Giveaway still goes on. Need a tune-up?