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Keeping The Faith

2 Tim. 4:6-8 

 

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. [7] I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; [8] in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. 
 

In his book, Go the Distance, Ed Rowell, Teaching Pastor at the People's Church in Franklin Tennessee explains "21 Habits & Attitudes for Winning at Life." Throughout the book, he emphasizes the importance of finishing the race and finishing well, one particular story that grabbed my attention was his personal struggle during a marathon race.

In many ways, Ed is a Renaissance man. He describes himself as having "attention surplus disorder"-everything interests him. In his younger years, he was a bull rider, an Elk hunting guide and a Marathon runner. 

Personally, I don't get it. I don't know why anyone would want to run for 26.2 miles, but then again, I don't know why anyone would strap themselves onto a bull and go for a ride either. 

As he prepared for the 1983 Marathon in Kansas City, Missouri, Ed wasn't concerned with finishing the race, he had already completed four Marathons. He was concerned with improving his time. His ultimate running goal was to compete in the Boston Marathon, to do that, he needed to get his time under three hours and ten minutes, nine minutes faster than his personal best.

He was in great shape. For the past three months he got up religiously every morning and ran. He ran through fatigue and pushed himself into Marathon condition. At the starting line, Ed was cold. But he knew that the 50 degree weather and light drizzle would actually benefit him once he got moving.

When the gun sounded that early October morning in 1983, Ed had no idea how much that race was going to impact his life. He started well, but as he did a mental assessment early into the race, he was surprised at how much he was laboring. Using mind over matter, he purposed himself to go on. Not only had he been training his body, he had practiced mental conditioning techniques to help him push through the wall-the mental barrier that tells a runner they can't take another step. But by mile 12, his will evaporated. He stopped running and started walking. After a hundred yards, he ran again. But it didn't last. Like a jerking clutch, he walked a while and ran a while, then it happened.

The early stages of hypothermia began to sit in. The constant drizzle and the low temperature are to a runner's advantage, because it alleviates the problem of dehydration that hot weather runners face. But it isn't to the advantage of walkers, because they don't generate sufficient body heat to offset the environment.

The race organizers had vans circling the course looking for runners who were injured or ill prepared for the race. Twice, one of those vehicles stopped to see if Ed wanted to ride to the finish line, twice he ignored them and started to jog.

The third time they came by, Ed was shivering uncontrollably, but he still shook his head "no" when the van stopped to pick him up. "We've got warm blankets and hot chocolate" the young woman said. Ed got into the van and immediately began sobbing.

It was a defining moment in his life.

Later, he was ashamed when he met up with his friends who finished the race and had to tell them what happened. Why did it happen? I'm not sure. I'm not even sure if Ed knows himself. But I do have an idea. I think it happened because Ed took finishing the race for granted. He was concentrating on a time, not the finish line. (http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)

According to Professor Howard Hendricks of Dallas Theological Seminary, there are 100 or so leaders in the Bible, two-thirds of whom did not finish well. (http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)And for them, there was more at stake than whether they ran across a finish line or whether they sit comfortably in a van sipping a cup of Hot Chocolate. When King David fell, he brought shame to his entire house and his kingdom. His son Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, squandered Israel's future on foreign wives who introduced their gods to the culture. If Dr. Hendricks is right, if 2/3rds of Biblical leaders did not finish well, then Paul's statement "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;" takes on greater significance-he was one of the elite of the faith. 

Why was Paul able to finish well? For one thing, he didn't take the finish line for granted. Paul knew his frailties, he said, "...Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief." (1 Tim. 1:15 KJV) Paul knew he was a sinner and he waged a constant battle against the flesh. In Romans 7:15-19 (KJV) he wrote, "For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. [16] If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. [17] Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. [18] For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. [19] For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do."

Can't we all relate to Paul's words here? Don't we all struggle with the power of sin in our lives? To finish the race, we have to lay aside habitual sin. In Hebrews 12:1 the writer of Hebrews said, "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us," Look at the phrase "the sin which doth so easily beset us." That phrase is referring to habitual sin-a type of sin that reoccurs in our lives. We cannot finish the race unless we lay aside every weight, including habitual sin.

Whenever a batter is in the on-deck-circle, he swings a bat with a weight attached to it. He does that so the bat will feel lighter when he gets to the plate. Runners put weights on their ankles during their warm-up for a similar reason, they want their legs to feel light. It would be foolish to keep the weight on the bat or the ankles beyond the on-deck-circle or practice track. Prudence dictates discarding the weight.

What are the things that are weighing you down and keeping you from running your best? Do you have some bad attitudes? Are there some harmful habits in your life that are harming you? Are you keeping the disciplines of the faith?

Because Paul knew he could fail, he didn't take the finish line for granted and he battled the flesh so he could live a righteous life. How can we do the same? We have to realize that we could fall too. We need to pay careful attention to warning signs that trouble is coming.

With just one lap to go at the 83rd running of the Indianapolis 500, Robby Gordon knew that he didn't have enough gas to finish. While the other lead drivers had taken a pit stop when the yellow caution flag went up following a crash by Mark Dismore, Gordon gambled that he could finish the final 37 laps on one tank of fuel. With just a lap to go he had to pull in for a "splash" of methanol. The stop caused him to finish in fourth place.

The fuel gauge in his car had been warning him for some time and he chose to postpone the solution. The stakes in our lives are much higher. As soon as the warning light goes off in one critical area of life, that is the time to make adjustments or course corrections. (http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)

Today, Ed lives with the pain of the unfinished race, but he learned something from it. He said, "The pain of dropping out will linger long after the pain of perseverance has passed." (Rowell, 188)

The Apostle Paul knew the pain of perseverance. He was tried, imprisoned and beaten for his faith. He endured shipwreck, the elements and the hand of persecutors. But he held fast. He didn't give in. Yes, he knew the pain of perseverance, but he also knew the joy of finishing the race.

"For I am already being poured out as a drink offering," Paul wrote, " and the time of my departure has come. [7] I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; [8] in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing."
 

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