A Race for the Prize

“I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  – PHILIPPIANS 3:14

Have you ever participated in a sporting event or race and competed for a prize? How much time and effort did you put into training? Have you ever heard anyone say, “I could do that!” while watching the athletes perform? Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, will host this year’s summer Olympics, and more than 10,000 athletes from over 200 countries are expected to participate.

The Olympic games began as early as 776 B.C. when they were held in Athens, Greece. At that time there was only one event, a running race won by a cook named Coroebus. Today the Olympics feature about 300 events from 28 different sports.

Swimmer Michael Phelps has been called the greatest athlete who has ever lived. Phelps has won 22 Olympic medals—18 gold, two silver, and two bronze—more than any other Olympic athlete. But he didn’t earn these without effort and hours of training. Athletes train for years and even push through days when they don’t feel like training because their eyes are fixed on a goal—the prize. To compete at the highest level is serious business!

In the Bible, Paul compares the Christian life with a race. In an Olympic event many competitors run, but only one receives the prize. Paul encourages us all to run to win. Just like athletes, we are to take our training seriously by being faithful in all things and staying away from whatever might distract us from winning the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24; Hebrews 12:1).

In our spiritual training we have the best Coach, One who has already run the race and won! He encourages us to press toward the goal (Philippians 3:14) and our goal is to spend eternity with Him, our Best Friend, Jesus. Don’t give up!

It is important that we train daily by reading His Word, praying for His strength, and keeping our eyes focused on Him. Jesus endured and wore a crown of thorns so we could wear a crown of gold in heaven. Are you willing to carry the torch for Jesus and encourage others along the way?

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A Bird Watcher

“Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” – MATTHEW 6:26

I recently had a fun conversation with a friend who is an ornithologist—someone who studies birds. He knows about all kinds of different birds, and has studied them in lots of interesting places. So I was happy to be able to tell him about a special bird I had seen.

On a trip to New Zealand I was blessed to see a kiwi bird. Even though it has little wings, the kiwi is a flightless bird. And it is nocturnal, meaning it comes out only at night. Few people ever see a kiwi, even though it is the national bird and one of the national symbols of New Zealand.  They are extremely rare, with one species of kiwi described as being “critically endangered.” Since they are very vulnerable to predators, some kiwi are raised in sanctuaries, like the one I was so fortunate to visit.

If you think of a fruit when you hear the word “kiwi” you’re not alone. The kiwifruit was named after the kiwi bird. Kiwis live in remote areas, are very shy, and are the only bird to have its nostrils at the end of their beak (which is very long). The mother kiwi lays the largest egg of any bird in the world in relation to the size of the bird itself.

Kiwis eat worms, spiders, and insects, which they find in the ground with their long beaks and their extraordinary sense of smell. Their feathers are different from most birds and feel more like fur than feathers, and they’re specially designed to keep the kiwis warm and dry.

Unlike many birds, kiwi moms and dads don’t raise their young. While both parents incubate the eggs, newly hatched kiwi chicks are left to survive on their own! One thing that helps them to do this is that the belly of a newborn kiwi is swollen with enough yolk to provide food for the chick for several days, meaning that they have time to grow and learn how to forage for food.

Although I have seen kiwis in captivity, I was able to do something that very, very few people ever have the opportunity to do—I was able to hold one!

Because of what happened on day five of Creation week, we can see many different birds every day. Even “ordinary” birds are beautiful and interesting, and all birds are a wonder of God’s creative power. Whether it is the song of a bird, their beautiful colors, or the incredible way they construct their nests (or in the case of the kiwis, their burrows), birds are a daily reminder that, like my ornithologist friend, God is also a bird watcher and loves and takes care of these amazing little creatures.

Take time today to appreciate birds. Listen to the sound of their song, appreciate their beauty, and watch them as they fly. And remember to thank God for them!!

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The Snowflake and You

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. – PSALM 139:14

Snow is mentioned 24 times in the Bible. Isaiah 1:18 and Psalm 51:7 say that when Jesus washes away our sins, we become whiter than snow. The leprosy of Naaman and Miriam is described as being as white as snow (2 Kings 5:27; Numbers 12:10), and God’s hair is said to be white like snow (Revelation 1:14; Daniel 7:9).

There are a lot of fun things you can do in the snow. You can build a snowman, construct an igloo, make a snow angel, or go sledding or skiing. All that snow we enjoy playing in so much is made up of an accumulation of individual snowflakes.

Have you ever heard the phrase “no two snowflakes are alike”? A man named Wilson A. Bentley, from the small town of Jericho, Vermont, made that incredible discovery in the nineteenth century.

In 1885, using a camera he connected to a microscope, Mr. Bentley became the first person to photograph a snowflake. After many years of diligent work, he successfully photographed more than 5,000 different snowflake crystals, and he never saw two snowflakes that were the same!

Mr. Bentley said this about the snowflakes: “Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.”

I love where he says, “Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated.” It reminds me of the care Jesus took in creating us. Just like a snowflake, you are a masterpiece of God’s creation and the design He used for you will never be repeated. Even twins are not exactly alike.

You are very special to Jesus. Only you can be the person Jesus created you to be. In Psalm 139:14, David said that he was “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God. Just as the beauty of every little snowflake gives glory to our great Creator, each person has been “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10).

By simply falling to the earth a snowflake adds beauty to its surroundings and speaks of its Maker. And as you allow Jesus to live in you, others will “see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Remember today that you have been made unique. You are special in God’s sight, and like the beautiful snowflakes, your life will add beauty to this world!

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Consider, and Be Wise

“Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise.” – PROVERBS 6:6

The Bible mentions nine different kinds of insects. How many of them are you able to think of?

Here is the list of insects the Bible refers to: the ant, bee, flea, fly, gnat, grasshopper, hornet, locust, and the moth. If you are surprised that the spider didn’t make the list, then remember spiders are not insects, but arachnids. Arachnids have two body parts while insects have three. Also, spiders have eight legs, while insects have only six.

Of the nine insects the Bible mentions, it instructs us to consider one in particular to gain wisdom. Proverbs 6:6 says, “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise.”

I came across a fascinating story. It was about Mr. Royal Dixon, a naturalist, someone who studies plants and animals in nature.

Mr. Dixon came across a small, well-weeded rice patch out in the middle of a field. As he looked around, he couldn’t find any other crops. He wondered, “What kind of farmer would plant his rice patch here?”

After taking a closer look, Mr. Dixon noticed ants! He noticed a line of ants going back and forth carrying weeds and grass away from the rice patch. He came to the conclusion that the “farmer” must be the ants and decided he would observe their activity all the way through until harvest.

When harvest time arrived, Mr. Dixon watched this colony of diligent ants and was awed by what he observed. He saw ants stationed at the bottom of each ripened stalk of rice, while others climbed the stalks to cut loose the grain and drop it to the waiting workers below who carried it home. The ants continued this process until each stalk was fully harvested and then moved on to the next. It’s not a wonder God encourages us to observe the ant!

What are your work habits like? Do you have to be told what to do, or when you see a task, you diligently work until it is completed? Take a walk into your backyard, in a park, or even on the sidewalk and find some ants to observe. See what you can learn from them.

When I think of ants, I think of two verses in the Bible, Ecclesiastes 9:10 and Colossians 3:23. Take a moment to look up these verses and consider the ways of the ants and be wise!

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Grains of Sand

How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand … – PSALM 139:17-18

don’t think I know of anyone who doesn’t enjoy going to the beach. Summertime seems to attract thousands of people to the beach to enjoy the sun, waves, shells, and sand.

A university in Hawaii did a study and found that there are approximately seven quintillion, five hundred quadrillion grains of sand found on all the beaches in the world! That’s a 75 with 17 zeros behind it: 7, 500,000,000,000,000,000.  I wonder how long it would take you to count to that number starting at one.

If you think that is a big number, think about this. Our own Milky Way galaxy is estimated to have hundreds of billions of stars. Scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope estimate that there are at least 80 billion galaxies in the universe. Using this information, astronomers have estimated that there are 100 stars in the Universe for every grain of sand on the Earth’s beaches.

This makes me think of the words in Psalm 139: 17-–18.

“How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand …”

Next time you are on a beach and attempt to count the grains of sand, I hope that you will remember this verse and realize how truly precious you are to God.

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A Priceless Treasure

Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. – MATTHEW 10:31

We had just arrived at the guest house, which was kindly provided for us while away from home for a speaking appointment, when my children first heard about the kittens. The owner told us that their cat had about five kittens, but had them hidden to keep them safe.

It was like a game of hide and seek, and of course, my children searched for the kittens every day. They would follow the cat—hoping to find them—but they never did!

Then, a day or so before we returned home, the owner found the kittens in a large pot just outside the patio doors.

My children were so excited! Any plans that were made for that day no longer took priority.  The day was full of excitement with five little kittens to play with!

As my children played with the kittens, we began to notice that the mother cat was not around. How did the babies get there? And where was their mother? She was not responding to their cries.

After not seeing any sign of the mother cat all day, we found a box and put the kittens in it for the night.

Sunday came and we were ready to go home, but what were we going to do with the kittens? The mother cat had vanished, and the owner couldn’t take responsibility for the baby cats.

We were going to be returning to that same town the following weekend, so we decided to take the kittens home and bring them back a week later. That would give the owner time to make arrangements for the kittens’ care.  And it would mean we would have five kittens for a week!

What a busy, fun, and tiring week that was!  Because those little kittens didn’t have a mother, we had to feed them, clean them, and look after them.

Matthew 10:29 tells us of Jesus’ love
and concern for helpless little animals, “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.” And as much as Jesus cares for His little creatures, you can be sure He loves and cares for you even more! In Matthew 10:31 Jesus says, “Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

The kittens were adopted by families who loved them, and they became strong, healthy cats. And God—who loves you and cares for you—will watch over you and help you grow and be healthy. Remember to thank God every day for His kindness and love!

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