Exodus 20:8-11; Matthew 7:24-27

Do you remember the famous Aesop’s fable known as The Tortoise and the Hare? It was a simple story used to teach a powerful lesson. The story is about a rabbit that was in a race against a turtle. On first thought, you would conclude there was no way a speedy rabbit could lose a race to a slow and ponderous turtle. That is exactly what the rabbit thought in this story when he dashed off from the starting line and got so far ahead of the turtle that he figured he had time to stop and rest.

Meanwhile, the slow-footed turtle just kept moving along at a steady pace. He was not fast, and he was not flashy; he was just consistent. He did not possess any sudden bursts of speed as did the rabbit; all he did was maintain his regular pace from beginning to end.

The fable continues as the rabbit wakes up from his nap and sees the turtle, now far ahead of him, just about to cross the finish line. The rabbit takes off, running as fast as he can in an attempt to beat the turtle to the finish line. Much to the rabbit’s surprise, the turtle is too far ahead and there is no way the rabbit can catch him in time. None of the spectators lining the route of the race could believe their eyes; the slow-footed turtle crossed the finish line ahead of the speedy rabbit.

The moral of the story is that the race is not won by the fastest runner or the one who gets the biggest lead at the start. The race is won by the one who maintains a consistent, regular pace from beginning to end.

Let me remind you there are three ways to use and understand the word regular. One understanding of the word implies something that is average or common or not at all unique or uncommon. You probably have heard the phrase, “He’s just a regular guy,” meaning someone who behaves as an average person. I am told that most men in the United States wear a suit size between 36-42 regular. They do not need a suit that is marked extra long, extra large, short or portly.

There are a great many suits that can be purchased off the rack when your suit size is regular. When I go shopping for a suit, the store will have dozens of suits in regular sizes, but when we get to my size—50XL—all they have are four or five blue or grey suits. Sometimes I wish my suit size was regular.

A second meaning and usage of the word regular involves something that is normal and in no way altered or enriched. When you order coffee, do you ask for regular or decaf? Depending on where you order coffee, there may be an endless number of choices. I have stood in line at places such as Starbucks, Dewey’s or some other coffee shop and listened to people take 30 seconds just to order their drinks. They want a decaf, venti, caramel macchiato; or a cappuccino; or a latte, non-fat with soymilk; or some other exotic brew. When my turn comes, I order a regular cup of coffee. Some of the people in line look at me like I am old-fashioned and out of touch. I cannot wear a regular suit size, but I do like regular coffee.

On the other hand, when I fill up my car’s gas tank, I do not use regular gas. It may all be in my head, but I think my car engine runs better on 89 or 93 octane levels than it does on 87. Some people are trying to switch back to regular gas because the price of gas has risen so high. I am not telling anyone what kind of gas to buy; I am just pointing out how many ways the word regular can be used in our society. In fact, you almost have to hear the word being used in a particular context in order to know which meaning of the word should be applied.

Today, there is a third use of the word regular that I want to consider, and it is that third use of the word that makes this fable and sermon come alive. The third use of regular suggests consistency and routine. Your doctor and dentist urge you to get regular checkups. Your banker or financial planner urges you to make regular contributions to your savings or investment plan. We are urged to make fruits and vegetables a regular part of our daily diet. In every context I have mentioned from health to wealth, the rewards only go to those who have practiced the principle of regularity.

The older I get, the more I realize the best way to plan for retirement is not to race off to a big start in your 20s, do nothing between your 30s and 50s and then try to catch up between 60-65. No, the best way is to work at your retirement plan in a regular and consistent manner. I was listening to a call-in show on the radio that focused on planning for college, home ownership and retirement. Every other call was from a person who was 5 to 10 years away from retirement, wondering what he or she should do to have enough money to live on when the working years came to an end. The initial response they got was to pray. Then the advisor told them they should try to set aside large amounts of money on a monthly basis for the next 5 to 10 years.  Needless to say, things would have looked better for their retirement if they had started earlier and made regular investments along the way. There are rewards for regularity.

There was a story in a recent business section of the newspaper about a person who had lived beneath her means all of her working life. She set money aside on a regular basis. When she and other people in her office were laid off from their jobs, the others were in a panic because they had not planned ahead. She said she was embarrassed to tell them she had a net worth of more than $1,000,000 because she had been frugal and had been saving on a regular basis for many years. There is a reward for regularity.

How many of us have tried to lose weight through crash diets? We eat and eat until we can eat no more for decades, then we change our eating habits for a week or two and expect to lose some weight before we revert back to the same bad habit and the same bad results. The secret to losing weight is the same as the secret to gaining wealth; you have to work at it on a regular basis. It may seem more exciting to engage in sudden bursts of activity like the rabbit in Aesop’s fable. However, the victory went to the turtle that ran the entire race in a consistent and regular pace.

Needless to say, this analogy about the uses of the word regular applies to our spiritual lives and our relationship with God. Some Christians run for Jesus as fast as they can for a year or two, then they slow down, cool off and fall by the wayside. Like the rabbit in Aesop’s fable, these people get off to a fast start, but before you know it you see them laying down on the job. My point is that when it comes to our spiritual lives there is also a reward for regularity.

I have mentioned to you before the survey done by George Barna that revealed that most people consider regular church attendance to be once a month. That is not what Exodus 20 or Matthew 7 tell us. We need to remember and honor the Lord’s Day on a regular basis (every week), and we ought to live by the teachings of Christ on a regular basis (every day). Not many Christians do this. Most Christians are hot today and cool tomorrow. They are on fire for Jesus this week and mad at the church body and staying home next week. They cannot really be counted on. They have no ongoing prayer life. They engage in no ongoing study of Scripture. They may attend church on a regular basis, but their financial support of the church inconsistent. They are like the hare in the Aesop’s fable, starting off with a bang, but soon cooling down and dropping out of the race.

Thank God there are other Christians who are regular in the sense of being consistent and steady. They are extraordinary by the simple trait of being so reliable, dependable and consistent. They pray on a regular basis. They work in the church on a regular basis. They tithe 10 percent of their income to the Lord on a regular basis. They practice all the virtues of the Christian life (mercy, love, forgiveness, justice, generosity, hospitality, humility) on a regular basis. They may not be flashy or spectacular in how they perform their duties, but one thing is sure: You can count on them because they regular Christians.

Our scriptural passages for today speak about the importance of being regular in the best sense of the word. We should be regular in our church attendance by remembering the Sabbath, the Lord’s Day, every week. We should be regular by living by the teachings and the example of Jesus Christ every day. Anything less than being regular will not be sufficient. There is a reward for regularity. Consider the parallels; we should eat a balanced diet on a regular basis. We should take all prescribed medications on a regular basis. We should worship and serve the Lord on a regular basis. There is a reward for regularity!

There are two bookends within which I would present my case that there is a reward for regularity when it comes to our relationship with God. On the one hand, there was a point that Exodus 20 was trying to make. It was not simply that we ought to worship God once a week; it was really suggesting that we should stop working one day a week so we can rest and recover.

There used to be laws in this country called Blue Laws that required stores, restaurants and theatres to be closed on Sunday. People were required to stop working and strongly encouraged to go to church. In colonial America, you could be arrested, fined and even placed in the stocks with your head and hands locked into a wooden device as punishment for not honoring Sabbath or Lord’s Day regulations. Church attendance was regular in those days, but it was not voluntary. Going to church was driven by a fear of the law, not a love for the Lord.

On the other hand, in more recent times people have stopped going to church altogether. In the current issue of Ebony magazine is a story about the number of younger, more affluent black people who have stopped making church attendance a part of their lives. They tell themselves they can be spiritual without going to church. They convince themselves they are good people and therefore do not need to go to church. They may go to church for special occasions such as CMEs (Christmas, Mother’s Day and Easter). However, on the whole they have dropped religion, the Bible and church attendance from their routines.

Here are the two extremes within which this argument about regular church attendance is being debated. On the one hand are those who would try to make church attendance required, mandatory, compulsory and punishable by fine or humiliation. On the other hand are the people who see no value in church attendance and have removed it from their lives altogether. It is within these two extremes that I want to make the case that regularity in church activities has rewards that are well worth acquiring. The value of being a Christian is attached to regular involvement in spiritual disciplines. We should remember the Sabbath or the Lord’s Day; not only should we not go to work, but we ought to worship the Lord.

Let me clarify: Unlike our friends who are Seventh Day Adventists who go to church on Saturday and believe the Sabbath that runs from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, most Christians observe the Lord’s Day on Sunday. The Sabbath, as Exodus 20 points out, is in honor of the fact that in the Genesis creation story, God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. The word Sabbath means “rest.” The Lord’s Day is observed in honor of the resurrection of Jesus that occurred on the first day of the week.

This should not be a source of conflict within the body of Christ. In Romans 14:5, Paul said, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Whether you observe the Sabbath Day on Saturday or the Lord’s Day on Sunday, the message of the fourth commandment is to do it on a regular basis. Don’t take off two weeks every month. Don’t come to church based on the weather, the choir, the preacher or the kick-off time at the big game. Don’t let Sunday morning come around and find you in bed, playing golf or going out to brunch on a regular basis. Instead, make worship in the house of God on Sunday morning a regular part of your life.

Our second text in Matthew 7 invites us to live by the teachings of Jesus as found in Matthew 5—7 on a regular and consistent basis. Jesus said the reward of God goes to those who hear God’s Word and do it on a regular basis. James 1:22 says, “Be doers of the Word and not merely hearers.” We should love our neighbor as we love ourselves on a regular basis. We should avoid the sins of the flesh on a regular basis.

We should remind ourselves on a regular basis that Jesus died for our sins. We should remind ourselves on a regular basis that God raised Jesus from the dead. We should remember on a regular basis that Christ is coming back again to shake the earth and judge the nations. We should keep the basic truths and doctrines of our faith in the forefront of our minds. If you want to receive the rewards of the Christian faith you must practice the principles of the faith on a regular and consistent basis. Be regular in the sense of being steady, consistent, reliable and dependable.

For all of our boasting as Christians about how our faith is the true faith and that other faith traditions such as Islam are not the sure way to get to God, the truth is we Christians could and should learn some lessons about the positive sense of the word regular from our Muslim friends. One of the disciplines of Islam is stopping for prayer five times a day. No matter what he or she may be doing, a truly devout Muslim will put everything on hold to engage in prayer five times every day. Imagine how hard it would be to get a Christian who will not come to church every week to engage in prayer five times a day.

I learned this lesson about the regular practice of prayer among Muslims during a trip to Senegal, West Africa, about 10 or 12 years ago. I had gone there with a group of teachers, school board members and administrators to study slavery from the perspective of the beautiful continent from which nearly 20 million people were stolen or sold into lifelong bondage. Our week in Senegal was packed with lectures, workshops and official events. When the week was almost complete, we had only one day to tour as much of the countryside as we could. We felt we did not have a moment to spare, so we wanted to squeeze every minute we had remaining.

Much to our surprise, at some point in the day our bus driver and tour guide pulled the bus to the side of the road and got off, leaving us sitting there while they went to a nearby field to pray. You see, they were Muslim, and they were rolling out prayer rugs and taking off their shoes to the engage in the regular act of praying to God. We were all sitting on the bus fussing and cussing because we were running out of time to tour the country. We wanted to see the creation, but our Muslim friends were having a talk with the Creator. They had it right, and we had it wrong. We were regular Christians in that we practice our religion only when it is convenient for us. Those two Muslims were regular in that they practiced their faith on a daily basis, five times every day no matter what was going on around them.

My prayer is that you and I become regular in our relationship with God. We should live in such a way that God can count on us every day. We should live in such a way that God can hear from us in prayer every day. We should live in such a way that God can be pleased with us every day. Do not become hot and then cold; do not start fast and then take off for a while. Serve God as the turtle that ran his race—slow and steady, regular and consistent.

That is the least we can do for a God who blesses us and heals us on a regular basis. That is not asking too much when you remember God hears our prayers on a regular basis. God has loved and sustained previous generations; He is looking out for this present generation; and the Lord will provide for generations to come. The God we serve is regular. He is not average; He is outstanding. He is not common; He is unique and without peer. Our God has all power, all wisdom and is present in all places. Because our God is regular in that He never stops taking care of us, we need to be regular and never stop serving the Lord.

Remember I said there is a reward for regularity. There is a benefit that comes with being consistent, steady and reliable. First, there is the benefit of taking some time away from work so our minds and bodies can rest and recover. That is the first rule of the Sabbath: to rest. People in our society need to learn this lesson, because many of us are working ourselves to death. It is a wonderful thing to work hard and accumulate a great deal of wealth, but who will spend it if you have a stroke or a heart attack the year after you retire? The first reward of regularity in remembering the Sabbath is the rest you provide for your mind and body.

There is a second reward worth mentioning: It will be easier to live the Christian life when you serve God on a regular basis. It may seem at first that loving your enemies is a hard and nearly impossible thing to do; but when you spend enough time around God and God’s Word, it becomes easier and more natural. What you do regularly you eventually do with less effort and more success.

It may seem hard to believe looking at me today, but when I was in college I won three athletic letters, some medals and trophies playing tennis. I still have a picture of the tennis team my senior year hanging in my office at home with me wearing tennis shorts with a size 36 waist. The truth is I never had hit a tennis ball until I got to college. At first, picking up the skills needed was very difficult. I was playing against people who had been playing tennis since elementary school. I had a lot of catching up to do if I was going to play the game at a competitive level. That meant I had to practice more than anybody else on the team.

I would play indoors in the winter and outdoors when the weather warmed up. Some days, I would shovel snow off the tennis courts in February in suburban Chicago and practice my serve or hit forehands and backhands against a wall with the line that marked the height of the net on the tennis court. Sometimes the coach would come out and work with me for hours. He would hit a ball in the air, and I would have to hit an overhead shot. He would lob a ball over my head, and I would have to run back and return it to his backcourt. We would practice shots at the net, shots on the base line, shots across the court and shots straight down the line. I did not practice tennis once a month or every now and then; I practiced on a regular basis. I practiced to the point that when I got in an actual match, there was not one shot I was not able to hit. It seemed hard at first, but the more I did it the more natural it became.

That is the way it is with God and the church. It may seem to be a lot at first, but the more you do it the more natural it becomes. You stop trying to be a Christian and just become mature in your faith. You stop trying to love and forgive difficult people, and it just starts to happen automatically. You stop trying to figure out how you can afford to tithe, and you step out on faith and trust God will make up the difference. You stop trying to remember to study your Bible and find yourself in Bible class on a regular basis.

The more time you spend around God and the church, the easier it will be to do the things expected of Christians. After a while, the burden of going to church passes away, and you wake up every Sunday saying, “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord.'”

I do not wear a regular sized suit, and I do not use regular gas in my car; but there is one area of my life in which the word regular describes my attitude perfectly. I am determined to serve God on a regular basis. I will worship God every week and live by God’s teachings every day. Then after I have served God regularly in this life, there will be one last reward waiting for me and for those who serve God on a regular basis. The apostle Paul was pointing to that when he said in 2 Timothy 4:6-8: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge will award me on that day, and not to me only, but all of them also that love his appearing.”  

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