2.I Love You, Friend. Don't Touch That Burning Stove.

      Once upon a time, Paul Gaugin entitled one of his paintings "Where do we come from? Who are we? Were are we going?" These are the big questions. you can ask them now, or you can wait and have them answered for you later. We come from God and we are going back to God, so it seems (at least to me) that who we are might have something to do with God. We are made by God to serve God. When we don't serve him, we take our chances.
      Here is an important point -- there are two ways in which I can live. I can live to please myself, or I can live to please God.
      I used to live for myself, all the while telling people that I was living for God. Sometimes I still do this. It is called bad religion. It out-Herods Herod, pray you avoid it. I used the Bible to condemn other people, and I used my intellect to defend myself. It is hypocrites like me who killed all of those people in the crusades; it is hypocrites like me who crucified Jesus. If I have wronged you, if Jim and Tammy Bakker have wronged you, if the nun at your Catholic grammar school has wronged you, please have the sense to blame us and not Jesus Christ, lest you throw the baby of light out with the bath water of human frailty. Jesus is perfect and he loves you. He has never let you down and he never will. As for me, I cannot make myself love someone that I don't love. I can be kind to them, but only God can make me love them. "He who does not love does not know God; for God is love" (I John 4:8).
      And what exactly is love? "Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends" (I Corinthians 13:4-8). If I am living to please myself (insisting on my own way) then I cannot love.
      Love is not some groovy, hey, whatever, live and let live thing (as in "All You Need is Love"). Love is not passive; it is active. If my friend decides to place his hand on a burning stove, I'm going to try and stop him because I love him. There are three ways I can do this. A) I can tell him, "Ahem, excuse me. Yoo-hoo. I say, I was just reading some Aquinas and, well, not to be overly assertive or anything but, he suggests that to place one's hand on a burning stove may result in pain." B) I can take out a gun and kill him (this will keep him from burning himself and from influencing others to burn themselves). Or C) I can block his hand with my hand and risk getting burned myself.
      If you'll put on your analogy de-coder ring and follow me, maybe we can figure this one out. The friend who decides to put his hand on the stove is someone who refuses to live for Jesus. The hot stove is what the Bible fondly refers to as hell (not a very popular locale to mention these days, but then neither is New Jersey. Unfortunately, the existence of a place is in no way affected by the popularity of its mention.) To reject Jesus is to live separated for eternity from the God who is all truth, love, goodness, and joy. That separation is hell. As a Christian, trying to serve and glorify Christ, I am the guy who sees his friend's hand heading for the burner. I care. What can I do?
      A) I can go to church a lot, mind my own beeswax, hoard the free gift of Jesus' salvation in my heart, and calmly "watch the world fall away below; let the winter winds blow" (James Taylor). But that's not love, that's lame. So many Christians (including myself) are so afraid of what people might think of them, that they avoid preaching the gospel, lest they be mocked.
      Here is a promise from God, "My word... will not return to me empty but it will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11). Here is another promise from God, "In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, for I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).
      Here is a command from Jesus, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28: 19-20). Personally, I want to do my best to serve and honor Jesus. He loves every one of us and desires that no one should perish. The least I can do is share his love with everyone I know. I trust him to do the rest.
      B) The second way I can keep my friend from touching the hot stove is by killing him. What an absurd solution, yet this is the way in which a lot of Christians react to non-Christians. When I share Jesus' love with someone, I am like a bum with some free food who wants to give it away to another bum. If he rejects the free food and says "I don't need it," I am sad for him, but that's not my loss. So many times Christians act as if they themselves died on the cross for the salvation of mankind.
      But lest we forget, no Christian has earned his own salvation. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). I cannot save anyone and I cannot damn anyone. That job belongs to God and he will perform it according to his according to his loving justice. The status of your immortal soul is between you and your maker. If Jesus is your Lord, you will be able to plead his blood for your sins and enter into life. That would be nice. I pray that for everyone reading this article. But that decision us yours, not mine.
      C) There is one final way to keep my friend from burning his hand on the stove. I can reach out to him in an act of love and sacrifice in which I myself might get burned. that is what Jesus did for us. Jesus did not come into this world to talk. He did not come into this world to kill. He came into this world to sacrifice himself for us. God sent his only son to die for us because he loves us that much. "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers" (I John 3:16). Jesus' way is the way of love. You don't rape people in the name of love.

      I am not writing these things so that you will think I am a good Christian. I am not writing these things to win an argument. I am not writing these things to be a martyr. I am writing these things because Jesus loves you and he wants you to know his joy for which you are designed. Repent of your sins, humbly admit your dependence on Jesus, and let him become the Lord of your life.
      I meant to write something about Milli Vanilli (really), but it can wait.