Lessons from Nature Day 5: Not Of the World, But In the World – The Penguin
They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one. (John 17:14-15, ESV)
Even if their zoo exhibits absolutely reek, I’ve often thought it would be cool to have a penguin as a pet. Of all the birds out there, they are arguably the cutest. But the one fact that I would think the vast majority of us associate with the penguin is this: they are birds that can’t fly. Flying is, of course, the most desirable of all superhero powers! Imagine walking out the front door and flying to work, gliding above the earth, seeing for miles on end, the wind rushing around you, and no cars to cut you off… I mean, come on! Which brings us to those non-flying penguins: Do you think it messes with their mind as they watch the puffins or other birds fly by, far above their little heads? Do they get jealous, wishing they could get in on the action? I doubt it. All you have to do is visit a penguin exhibit and watch those little cuties diving into the water and swimming around. Who knows, maybe the birds flying around above them are jealous, wishing they could swim!
I like to think that, perhaps, penguins don’t focus on what they can’t do. Instead, they focus on all they can do. Penguins are part of a select group of birds that can swim. There aren’t too many species that can swim underwater—maybe a dozen? Their wings were created, not for flight, but to function as flippers. Some penguins can even stay underwater for up to 20 minutes at a time. That’s a long time to hold your breath! They also are part of a select group that can drink sea water. They have special desalination glands built into their bodies to allow them to process salt water. As an unfortunate guy who has gulped down sea water, the thought is enough to make me gag! And so, penguins are not bizarre outsiders; they are unique, beautiful creatures specially equipped to live a life unlike so many other birds.
We can definitely learn from the penguin! A phrase Christians often quote is this: “In the world, but not of the world.” But as you read the words of Jesus in John 17, I wonder if we are placing our focus on the wrong part of the phrase. All too often, the emphasis is almost like this: “Well, we’re stuck here. Better make sure we just stay at home and avoid everyone and everything!” That isn’t what Jesus taught. Are we different? Are we uniquely Christ’s? Absolutely. But Jesus said, “I do not ask that You take them out of the world.” He has not left us here to avoid people and live in a compound. Instead, He prays that we will be kept “from the evil one” (Satan, of course). And while we, as believers, need to be careful to preserve our testimony and live holy lives, shouldn’t the phrase be more like, “Not of the world, but in it”?
All too often, the focus for Christian living is on all the things we believe we should not do in this world. Remember the penguin, focusing on what he can do? Think about all we can do. We can love our neighbor. We can serve other believers. We can worship God. We can manifest the fruit of the Spirit. We can encourage others. We can relay the truth of the gospel, the greatest gift to mankind. We can learn about Jesus. We can, at any time we choose, speak to the eternal God of the universe. We can be a role model at work, at home, at school, or at church, all while not becoming “like the world.” We can still be unique, different, and set apart while seeking to live a life that draws others to Jesus. The life of a Christian should be an attractive life, one that gives an unbeliever pause (in a good way). But doing so will absolutely involve being “in the world,” while fleeing the pull of sin. If we never befriend unbelievers and live a godly life before them, how can we see their eternal souls saved? Let’s learn from the penguin—never to sulk or isolate ourselves because of what we cannot do, but to rejoice and witness through what we can do!