Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tithing, Bible Study, and Running a Marathon


Tithing, Bible Study, and Running a Marathon:
What makes them so easy for some and impossible for others.

Credit card debt and expanding waistlines have one thing in common -- a lack of discipline. We spend more than we have and bite off more than we were ever meant to chew. For some reason we think that because others have their stuff, and their cake, without suffering adverse effects that we too have a right to the same ‘pleasures.’  We fail to take the time to realize that the person eating the cheesecake works out five times a week and doesn’t have a desk job. We forget that the big house down the street belongs to a husband and wife that both work sixty hours a week at jobs that required them to spend a total of twelve years of their life earning advanced degrees after high school. In our society’s attempt to obtain what it has not sacrificed for; we find our nation on a path of self-destruction.
The Word of God asks, ‘Will He find faithfulness on the Earth when He returns?’  Quickly glancing at waistlines, bank balances, church attendance, and tithing reports suggests that He will not. The Bible encourages us to be faithful over a few things. It is this faithfulness with a few things that prepares us for the challenges of juggling the many. The answer to most of what ails us as a society is really quite simple – discipline.
Last weekend I ran my first marathon. I say, ‘my first marathon’ because I refuse to allow it to be my last. The marathon was called ‘The Monumental Marathon.’ I suppose they chose the title because it features Monument Circle in Indianapolis as a key point in the race. You circle the monument both near the beginning and the end of the 26.2 mile course. For many people the idea of running 26.2 miles would also be considered a ‘monumental’ task. To be honest with you I found nothing monumental about it. I enjoyed it. Running 26.2 miles really was no big deal. Yes, it was the farthest that I have ever run at once and no, I didn’t have to walk at all, but nonetheless it really wasn’t that difficult. I was never out of breath, my legs never ached to the point of needing ice packs, I never once had a ‘side stitch’, and, believe it or not, I gained a pound during the race. How is that possible? The answer is simple.  Discipline.
About eleven years ago, while itinerating as a missionary in Kokomo, Indiana, Pastor Don Gifford began to encourage me to start running. He had recently entered his first half-marathon and was thoroughly enjoying his new running experience and wanted to share it with others. I took him up on it. I was about 35 years old that year and had never run more than a quarter of a mile in my life! How on earth was I going to take up the challenge to run a half-marathon of 13.1 miles? The answer: one mile at a time.
I returned to Africa that year with twin daughters and a jogging stroller. Through the streets of Dakar, Senegal and along the seaside roads of the Cape Verde Island of Sao Vicente I slowly added a half-mile at a time until I could comfortably run for five miles pushing my little girls. The first year back from Africa I signed up for a 10k race (approx. 6 miles) in Tipton, Indiana. I wanted to get as far away from people that knew me as possible! I finished well behind many people much bigger and much, much, much, older than I, but I finished! I was hooked and running became part of my life. Since that race in Tipton I have ran one other 10K, six half-marathons and one full marathon. People act like I have really accomplished something, but I am not satisfied. I want to run faster and I want to run farther before age forces me to go slower and shorter.
If reading this makes you want to go out and run a marathon – don’t do it! You probably can’t. You will severely injure yourself. You have not made the sacrifices necessary to complete the race. Do you still want to run a marathon? Why not begin by taking the first parking spot you see at Wal-Mart instead of driving around for five minutes looking for one close to the door. Start drinking water instead of pop. Sound too difficult? Don’t go out and buy any running shoes – you aren’t going to need them. Do you see the point that I am trying to make? We want the t-shirt, the medal, and the photo at the finish line, but we want it to be pain free. It doesn’t work that way. But, if you put in the effort – and the effort doesn’t even have to be a very ‘monumental’ one. You can do it! You just have to start! Do you want to know what the hardest part of running a marathon is? It is the first two steps out the door the day after you decide that you want to start running! The steps at mile 24 are a piece of cake compared to those first two steps!
Tithing and Bible Study are just like Marathon Running – they require discipline. Do you want to be a tither? Here is how you do it! Are you ready? Tithe. Wasn’t that simple? It is as easy as looking at your paycheck and moving the decimal point over one space to the left and writing a check for that amount. Try it! Do it once. After you do it once, do it again. After you have done it twice, do something really radical and tithe three weeks in a row! Before you know it you will even tithe when you are on vacation! You won’t get a t-shirt or a medal, but you will qualify for having the windows of heaven opened up over the top of you so that you can receive a blessing that you cannot contain! At least that’s what it says in His Word. Whether or not you think that you can believe what He says or not is up to you.
When it comes to Bible Study, I can’t tell you how many different times I have started to study God’s Word and ended up not completing the task. Bible Study is not nearly as easy as tithing, or running in a Marathon for that matter, but it does require the same tactic – discipline. Do you have 15 minutes a day? No! Do you have a tv? Do you have an ipod? Do you have a dog? If you answered ‘yes’ to any one of the previous three questions then you have 15 minutes! That’s all it takes – fifteen minutes! If you will take less than 15 minutes each day for the next three years you will not only be able to read the Bible through, but you will be able to study it as you read. Do you know what the hard part of Bible study is? It’s just like Marathon running! It’s opening up your Bible the first day after you decide that you are going to start studying it! If you want to study it – I’ll help you! I’ll be your own personal trainer! We can meet every single day of your life for the next three years at an hour of your choosing! You can’t get a better deal than that.
Take a good hard look at yourself today. What does the credit card statement look like?  What does your waistline look like? What does your home look like? What does your tithe record and church attendance look like? Are you lacking discipline in your life? Why not do something about it? Move the decimal point, strap on your shoes, rip up the credit card, disconnect the cable, open up your Bible, but do something. Please! God has better plans for you than the ones that you have failed to make for yourself. Don’t do anything radical! Do something simple. For the sake of His Kingdom – Do it!

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