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      Nurturing people in the image of God since 1868.                                                                          POB 397/520 Dry Creek Rd./Smithville, TN

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THIRD-PLACE WINNER

His head lowered, an exhausted but determined young man chanted over and over to himself, "You can do this. You can do it, you can do it, you can do it." These words, spoken as much for encouragement as for confirmation, found a listening heart. Without fail they drove one foot in front of the other, up into the air and then down - again and again and again. The boy watched intently as one by one, his new sneakers methodically slapped the asphalt slowly passing beneath him. It was a very tired patter. Looking up, the youth wiped his brow and searched for a glimpse of the finish line. "It's somewhere up there," he told himself matter-of-factly.

It was far off in the distance. Even so, Chris Burke had his heart set on reaching it.

With great effort, he, too crossed the finish line. By the time he did, photographers and reporters had already gathered around the young man who had taken first place. Cameras zoomed in and flashed, microphones strecthed forward to absorb the winner's words.

With a smile that stretched from ear to ear, Chris jubilantly bounded over and proudly stood next to the winner. He wrapped his arm around the young man his own age - someone he had never met prior to this event. Beaming, Chris patiently waited for the reporter to complete his interview with the victor - as patiently as he could in a moment that held so much excitement for him. When at last the reporter turned to the camera to make concluding remarks, Chris instantly stepped forward and thrust out his hand to receive a congratulatory handshake. "Oh, boy!" Chris shouted, unable to restrain his joy no longer. "I just want to tell you what a thrill this was and how happy I am to have come in third!" The reporter had little choice but to respond to the charismatic and enthusiastic athlete, wanting his turn at recognition.

"Yes...tell us about it," stammered the startled reporter good-naturedly.

"Wow!" said Chris. "Thank you for asking me to be interviewed. This is great! Just great! Well, I'm just very happy to be here. It's such a great honor. Of course, I finished in third place. Third place, not bad! Not bad, huh?" He didn't need an answer to his question, and he didn't wait for one. Instead, he turned his animated face for all the world to see - this was national television - and with more joy that I can remember from anyone, he said, "Thank you all for sharing in this very special time with me. It's time to celebrate!" With that, Chris turned, and ran over to line up for hugs and handshakes alongside the winner.

Chris was fourteen years old at the time. This was the Special Olympics.

There were only three runners in the entire race.

We, in the church, need to learn a very valuable lesson. That is, we are not competing against one another, but we are all on the same team. Sometimes we get to be critical and fault-finding because someone else gets more praise and acclamation than we do, so we get envious. Instead, we should be happy for them and concentrate on staying in the race ourselves. Romans 12: 15 says: "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep." Let's all focus on the race and remember that we just need to finish the race to receive a "crown of life."

For His Cause,
Tim Woodward