Practice Bigger (10/8/2017

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My wife, Stephanie, and I have a riding mower that we use to mow our lawn. Regular maintenance is required if we want to keep it operating properly. This includes keeping the proper oil level in the engine. The section of the owner’s manual titled Adding Oil gives the following instructions:

“1) Place the tractor on a level surface and engage the brake pedal lock. Stop the tractor engine and remove the ignition key.

2) Clean the area around the oil level dipstick, dipstick tube, and the oil filter cap to prevent debris from entering the crankcase.

3) Remove the oil filler cap from the left valve cover and slowly pour in oil. Fill the crankcase until the oil level reaches the “Full” mark on the dipstick.

4) Reinstall the oil filler cap by screwing it securely into the valve cover.” (Cub Cadet Model 2206 Owner’s Manual)

These instructions are easy to understand and laid out step-by-step. All I have to do is what the manual says to do.

The truth is I don’t think I really need to follow the manual. My yard wasn’t created level so it’s OK if I park the mower on a hill to check the oil. There’s no need to worry about cleaning around the filler cap before I put oil in the engine. A little bit of dirt in the engine won’t hurt. It really doesn’t matter if I put the filler cap back on because the oil is down in the engine anyway. Most of it will stay in there. Besides, my mower is special. It was created to be different from all of the other mowers so the rules don’t apply to it.

If I truly thought like this, what would happen? Most of the time the engine wouldn’t be operating at full capacity and dirt would get into the system. The efficiency and life span of the engine would be cut short.

Would it make any sense to completely disregard the instructions in the manual simply because I didn’t want to make the effort to follow them?

Yet many people who call themselves Christians use this type of logic when it comes to the Bible. They don’t worry if they’re off a little in the areas where God says to measure yourself to see if you’re really being faithful. It’s perfectly acceptable in their minds to allow some of the world’s filth to come into them. A little bit won’t hurt anything. They don’t think God’s instructions apply to them or to other people they know because they’re “special.”

Many times, they try to justify their rationale by saying something like, “My Jesus would never condemn anyone.” Or “My Jesus is loving. He understands I’m a sinner. I don’t need really need to repent.”

Anytime I hear this type of statement, my internal radar goes on alert. I want to know more. Is “your Jesus” the Jesus we read about in the Bible or is he one you’ve created because you don’t like what the Bible teaches?

Sometimes people have such a close relationship with Jesus that they use the phrase “my Jesus” when referring to the Biblical Jesus. They’ve studied the scriptures and are striving to correctly interpret them. Reality is most of the time these Christians simply refer to him as “Jesus”. Most of the people I’ve encountered who use the phrase “my Jesus” are referring to a modified Jesus they’ve created who will allow them to either alter or dismiss the Bible passages they don’t like.

Jesus had something to say about this type of thinking.

Matthew 5-7 gives us one of Jesus’ most famous sermons – the Sermon on the Mount. It contains some of the most difficult teachings to ever roll off Jesus’ tongue. He said his followers should seek the kingdom of heaven. They are to abstain from evil thoughts, adultery, divorce, taking oaths, judging other people and seeking vengeance. Rather, they are to love their enemies, give to the needy, spend time praying and fasting, store up treasures in heaven instead of on earth, trust God instead of worrying and strive to be faithful to God.

He ended the sermon by saying this in Matthew 7:21-29. “21 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

When Luke records Jesus words about the wise and foolish builders, he adds one more statement from Jesus. “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I say? (Luke 6:46)”

We don’t do what Jesus says because we’re trying to earn salvation. Jesus gives us salvation though his death and resurrection. We do what Jesus says because he demands we become his disciples once we accept the salvation he offers.

Please prayerfully and honestly answer this question: As I reflect on the way I’m living my life, am I striving to be obedient to Jesus in everything I do?

I realize this is a hard teaching. One reason it’s so hard is because many pastors and congregations don’t want to face it. We’re ready to deal with this now. It’s part of going to the next level with Jesus. How will we respond to this difficult challenge?

In John 6, Jesus teaches that he is the bread of life and no one will have this life unless they eat his flesh and drink his blood. John 6:60-69 records what happened next. 60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Jesus allowed the disciples who didn’t want to follow his teachings to walk away. The master determines the terms of the relationship. The disciples don’t. Anyone who didn’t want to abide by the terms of the master was free to leave. Jesus gives us that same freedom.

Jesus is asking you and I to make a decision. Are we willing to become committed disciples and put forth our best effort at obeying his teachings? If we truly believe the words in the Bible are true, then we have no choice but to be dedicated disciples of Jesus. If we don’t believe the words in the Bible are true, we are free to walk away from the teachings of Jesus.

If you decide to walk away, where will you go for your salvation? Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” If you walk away from the Jesus in the Bible and create a “my Jesus” that doesn’t demand too much, can that Jesus really give you salvation?

Engines lose efficiency and longevity if the instructions to maintain them aren’t followed. Eventually they quit working. This causes some frustration, lost time and money but it really isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of life.

Failing to follow the instructions Jesus gives us not only leads to problems in this life. It has eternal consequences. This is much more serious.