by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

April, 2006
Last year, shortly before Christmas, a three-month-old baby South African Jackass Penguin named Toga was stolen from Amazon World, a zoo on Isle of Wight, England. The baby bird was not expected to survive for more than five days, since it required a special diet and would not accept food from humans. Toga’s parents, Kyala and Oscar, were described as “crestfallen.” Zoo employees speculated that the thief or thieves may have been “inspired” by the film “March of the Penguins” and decided the penguin would make a good Christmas gift. It was thought the thief or thieves had climbed a six-foot outer wall followed by an eight-foot metal and concrete barrier. Toga’s fate was never learned, despite a reward of more than $66,000, which is still being offered, although he has been presumed to be dead. When she heard about it, my former coworker, Kim, said, “I suspect alcohol was involved.”

Seriously, I have to wonder who would do such a thing and, more important, why. Even if he had been an adult, Toga would have had special needs, beyond those of a typical canary or parakeet. He would have needed to be kept cool, with access to plenty of fresh water and lots of fish. Why would anyone take him? As I’ve mentioned previously (in January, 2001), I’ve always been fascinated by penguins but I know better than to think I could ever keep one as a pet.

Frequently, when something happens, it’s fairly easy to figure out the reason. If a politician accepts a bribe, we know the reason was greed. If street punks kill someone in a drive-by shooting, we know the reason was drugs. If someone does something really stupid, we know it was probably drug- or alcohol-related.

And we also know when the reason is God. Jesus warned the people about the hypocrisy of the teachers of the law (Mark 12:38-40). He said their motivations were not pure; they only did good things for show, so people would admire them. In contrast, he pointed out a widow, who gave two small copper coins to the temple treasury (Mark 12:42-44). Many others before her had given large amounts but they gave only what they could comfortably afford. In contrast, the widow gave all that she had. She was motivated by her love for God.

Jesus calls us to give everything to him (Luke 14:33). When the disciples received the Holy Spirit, some people said, “‘They have had too much wine.’” (Acts 2:13b NIV). In other words, “alcohol was involved.” But Peter said they weren’t drunk but they were filled with the Spirit (Acts 2:15-18). Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph. 5:18 NIV). Long distance runners sometimes report experiencing “runner’s high,” a euphoric state in which body and mind are stimulated. When we give our all to Christ, we can be intoxicated by the Spirit. Paul encouraged the Christians in Corinth, “Run in such a way as to get the prize.” (1 Cor. 9:24b NIV). When we are filled with the Spirit and working for Christ, our motivations will show through our acts.

The story of Toga has a semi-happy ending: In early January, Kyala laid a new egg, which hatched on Valentine’s Day. Zoo officials had closed circuit television cameras and motion sensors installed so that no one could steal the new chick. Just as Kyala, Oscar, and their keepers celebrated this new life, our example can lead others to celebrate new life in Christ.

“As he taught, Jesus said, ‘Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.’”
“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything–all she had to live on.’” (Mark 12:38-44 NIV.)

Copyright © 2006 by David Phelps