From time to time I like to watch certain types of racing. It may stem from my days on the Jr. High track team when I was a kid. I was always fascinated with the relay races (although I never was part of that race—the coach assigned me to hurdles). They practiced more than just the average runner who did the road work and wind sprints. To these daily exercises they practiced diligently at passing the baton at full speed. This was important because a dropped baton meant a lost race, a late or early pass meant disqualification. And so they practiced the hand-off with intensity.

I’ve also enjoyed some of the bicycle relays when they’ve been telecast in my viewing area. These cyclists ride with precision keeping in sync with one another almost to the position of the pedal. As the lead grows weary, he drops back to bring up the rear and be carried along in the wake of his team-mates. Everybody is doing their part to keep the machine of the team in motion.

We can take a lesson from the relay athletes in understanding the work of the church. Occasionally we spell one another, working in sync as a team. At other times we pass the baton smoothly and safely to the next one. Are we preparing to pass/receive the baton of service as time marches on?

 “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)

In the 1980s Guy Dowd, a public school teacher and part-time pastor, was chosen to be “Teacher of the Year.” He earned a trip to the Whitehouse to meet then president Ronald Reagan, and he enjoyed many speaking engagements as a result of the honor. In his public addresses he talked about how encouraging it was to meet the president and be honored with an award.

For Dowd, though, life wasn’t always encouraging. He was awkward and overweight growing up. Because of this he was the recipient of many jokes and derisions. One phys ed coach made a point to belittle him in front of his entire class. How does a child like this find his way through the education system and into the oval office for a meet and greet with the president? The answer is in the form of another phys ed teacher. This coach would build up and encourage his students. Dowd recalls another failed effort to do any chin-ups as required by the curriculum. But instead of berating the young student, coach said, “Good effort, Guy. Good effort.”

It’s nice to be encouraged along the way, and some of the best encouragement comes from God Himself as he looks down on his children and says, “Good effort.”

 “Look, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.” (Genesis 28:15a)

I like a good, sturdy umbrella, don’t you? Umbrellas have a specific job to do, and if they are built well they do that job nicely. They keep the rain from crashing down on me, and I don’t have to stay inside all the time.

I have discovered, though, that if you are going to purchase an umbrella, it is worth your while to fork over a little bit extra and purchase a well-made one rather than try to save a buck on the cheap ones. You know the ones: they “conveniently” fold up into a tiny size that fits neatly in the pocket or purse. What I found out about these collapsible models is that they are easily left behind and lost, whereas we never leave behind an expensive model that is big enough to use as a club if necessary. Most of the cheap umbrellas I have owned didn’t provide very good protection from the elements anyway—one big gust of wind and they flip inside-out  and let all the rain in. I prefer the Mary Poppins variety of umbrella that could carry me off in a strong windstorm.

God is a sturdy umbrella. He is portable enough to stay with us everywhere we go, and strong enough to protect us from all the elements of any storm.

 “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” (Proverbs 18:10)

Prayer is the word we use for communication with God. This implies a couple of things. First of all, prayer is the opportunity for us to open our hearts up to our Maker. Tell God everything that is on your heart, in your mind, and that you are concerned about. This is important. It is our opportunity to ask God the questions that we have about life.

The other thing that the word communication applies is that God responds to our cries of prayer. Too often we don’t hear the response because we walk away from the conversation before giving God the chance to respond. When this happens we think that God doesn’t even listen to our prayers.

The truth is that God not only hears our prayers, but he answers them. He answers them sometimes with the exact response that we expect. Often  he answers our prayers with something that looks absolutely different from what we were expected. Listen for his response.

 “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8)

In math classes in school they still teach a concept known as “greater than/less than.” This is not the technical name for the concept, but as children we learn that some quantities are greater than others.

The book of Hebrews is a testimony to this concept on a much deeper level than what quantity is greater or less than another quantity. In the book of Hebrews we find that Christ is greater than every other person or thing that we know.

The prophets of Old Testament days were important. They had a direct line to God. He spoke to them and gave them a message that was always true. As a group, these prophets were revered long after their death because of the intimacy they had with God. But the book of Hebrews teaches us that the prophets of old had nothing on Jesus. As closely as these men walked with God, as spiritual as they were, and as important as they were to the history of Israel, Jesus walked closer; He has a greater spirit; He is more important to the history of the World.

Jesus is the great Greater Than.

 “[T]hat at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.” (Philippians 2:10a)

Hardly anyone does anything without the aid of the Internet these days. For someone to get on-line to do research, check email, or a number of other tasks, he must have a “service provider.” When the provider has problems the access to the internet goes down. And in our area, I find that my provider is not always adequate to the task I am doing.

Healthcare has jumped on the “provider” bandwagon, too. We no longer get to see our doctor, but must make appointments with our “primary care provider” which is often a group that has been approved by our insurance—that’s how healthcare providers get paid. This kind of system makes it cumbersome to need and see a physician.

There is one provider who never lets us down, though. God has chosen to be the provider for all the needs of mankind—He just wants us to receive this provision. He does all the work. As the hymn writer said, “Have faith in God, He provides for His own.”

 “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)

I’ve watched cheer squads work on their stunts. You know, building a human pyramid, stacking one on top of another to create a giant physical tower. What I noticed is that these squads always put the bigger, sturdier members on the bottom so that the one on the uppermost layer is the lightest. They do this so that the foundation will be strong enough to hold steady. (I think they want the smallest burden to be held, too.) What they are trying to achieve is a creation that will work.

The lesson is learned from the builder, who puts strong, worthy material at the base of his creation to make sure that the building holds up.

Life should be handled in the same way: build on the best foundation available. We know that foundation to be Christ and His teachings. Start with a true, strong foundation and your structure (your life) won’t falter.

 “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. . . . He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit In season and whose leaf does not wither.” (Psalm 1:1 & 3)