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by David Phelps

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

January, 2001

When I was a boy, I was fascinated by penguins. Whenever we went to the zoo, I would spend most of my time watching them. Their swimming always seemed so graceful, like the flight of other birds. You can understand, then, why this story aroused my interest: Late last year, a number of penguins began appearing on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, where the average temperature is over 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Many well-meaning people took the birds in; some took them home and tried to keep them as pets, others took them to animal shelters or zoos. At home, many people kept them in refrigerators. When people delivered the birds to various animal shelters and zoos, they were frequently brought in ice chests. Many of the poor birds were suffering from hypothermia (a condition in which the body temperature is abnormally low). It seems that these were not Antarctic penguins at all but a species intended for a much warmer climate. As a result, the people who were trying to keep the birds healthy and comfortable were in fact making them ill.

It seems a bit ridiculous at first to think of penguins being too cold. After all, penguins are supposed to be cold. They like it that way. Everyone knows that. A penguin that's too cold is like an eagle that's flying too high or a trout that's too wet; it doesn't make any sense. And yet, all living things are made for a particular environment. There are 17 different species of penguins and they can be can be found around the coasts of most islands in the Southern Hemisphere. Some are found as far north as the Galapagos Islands, which cross the equator.

We have our own environmental needs as well. We need to be warm but not too warm; we need to feel safe but not smothered. How do people feel when they enter our church? What kind of welcome do they receive? Is it warm or do they feel like they're in a refrigerator? Is it too hot, so that they feel like they're being grilled? They should receive a warm welcome and the hand of friendship and fellowship (Rom. 12:13). At the same time, while we need to make things warm for them, we can't make things too hot either: "Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters." (Rom.14:1 NIV). Our goal should be to create an environment that is both nurturing and challenging. "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ." (Eph. 4:15 NIV). We are called to satisfy their physical needs and to direct them to the one who can satisfy their spiritual needs:

"Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men,
for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things." (Psa. 107:8-9 NIV).

We know about the need for God, we know what it's like to be thirsty for what only God can supply. That's why we're the church, because we know what it's like to be sinners without God, wanderers without a home. "Hear my prayer, O LORD, listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping. For I dwell with you as an alien, a stranger, as all my fathers were." (Psa. 39:12 NIV). We must welcome others to our fellowship as we were once welcomed ourselves.

"And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia -- your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead -- Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath." (1 Thes. 1:7-10 NIV).

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Copyright © 2001 by David Phelps