When I was growing up, my parents planned wonderful vacations for our family. My dad does a great job of researching beautiful places and interesting attractions in cities all over North America, and even in the UK. One thing was always consistent: if there was a zoo nearby, he planned for us to spend at least part of a day there just for me. Of course dad, mom, and my brother found them enjoyable, too, but it was clearly a choice made for my interests. Because of this, I can honestly say I’ve visited most of the prominent zoos in the US and Canada as well as some I’m sure most people haven’t heard of. These ranged from small, privately owned collections to the “big guys” like Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Busch Gardens, and San Diego Zoo. When I was a kid, it was all about seeing animals I’d only seen in books or getting different views of long time favourites. After I started my Zoo Animal Technology classes in college, I found my focus shifting. I was now an “insider.” I’d been behind the scenes in a couple zoos, seen how the work was done, so I found myself evaluating the exhibits as much as the animals in them. Now that I’ve been a zookeeper for 10 years, I do this even more when I visit other zoos. Of course, I still love the animals and I’m always exhilarated to see a species I’ve never seen before, but I’m also keeping a sharp eye on the design of the exhibit. I look for clever ways of concealing barriers and doors. I evaluate how easy the job of the keeper working in that exhibit might be. I may even criticize the designer for making “mistakes” that detract from the effectiveness of the display.
The other day, I had a few extra moments between tasks at work and I spent time watching one of my all time favourite zoo animals: the red pandas. The younger one was jogging around his exhibit, clearly enjoying the cool but sunny day. He would climb up one side of a tree and down the other. He climbed all over the platforms artfully placed between the trees. He even showed off one of the Red Panda’s special skills – using his super sharp claws to climb head first down a tree trunk. I smiled the whole time and delighted in the giggles from the children around me, laughing at the animal’s antics. I thought, “This is why I’m a zookeeper.” It isn’t because I’m an intense environmentalist, though I agree that conservation is vital. It isn’t because I have a desire to be an educator. It is because I love animals. I love watching them. I love hearing them. I love sharing them.
Lately, I’ve heard sermons and radio talks about Christians today losing their focus on what the Christian life is all about. I think they caught my attention because I see that in myself. The Christian life isn’t about the “exhibits” – going to church, reading your Bible, talking about the community events you’re volunteering at, or taking a stand on issues. The Christian life is about Jesus. Putting those other things before Him in importance is like building a zoo exhibit before deciding what animal will live in it. I might put in some beautiful fake logs, a climbing structure, and a deep pond and have a habitat that perfectly resembles a clearing in the woods of North America, but if I try to put a Tibetan Yak in there, it would make things difficult and confusing for the Yak, the zookeepers, and the visitors. We can put all the emphasis on being the most faithful attendee in our Sunday School class, but if we don’t know Jesus, we’re just wasting time. We can wave a sign in front of an organization we disagree with, but if we’re doing it for ourselves instead of for Christ, we’re just taking up space. Sure, God can use anyone and anything for His purposes and make it work. Just like the exhibit at my zoo that used to hold Mountain Goats and now houses Penguins. It has had modifications that make it work quite well. But nothing makes the same impact as something purpose built. Putting the focus on the animal’s needs builds the best exhibit. Putting my focus on Jesus Christ builds an effective life.
Hebrews 12:2 “Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.”