Subject: What It Means to Make a Difference in this World (#JordanLives)
Matthew 5:16 “Let you light so shine among men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
The Swearngin family are in Romania on a mission trip this week. They are working in orphanages and in nutrition centers, ministering to children. Of all the places on the globe to travel, why Romania? Jordan, their teenage daughter who died just eight months ago, told them she felt the Lord was calling her to go to Romania on a mission trip to work with orphaned children. They are there representing her, doing what Jordan had always done – focusing on one person at a time to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
Jordan’s life reminded me of the 1991 story “The Starfish Thrower”, where author Loren Eiseley described something that happened to her one morning while walking on the beach – and what it really means to be like Jordan – to make a difference while on this earth: “I awoke early, as I often did, just before sunrise to walk by the ocean’s edge and greet the new day. As I moved through the misty dawn, I focused on a faint, faraway movement. I saw a boy, bending and reaching and waving his arms – dancing on the beach, no doubt in celebration of the perfect day soon to begin.
As I approached, I sadly realized that he was not dancing, but rather bending to sift through the debris left by the night’s tide, stopping now and then to pick up a starfish and then heaving it back into the sea. I asked the boy the purpose of the effort. ‘The tide has washed the starfish onto the beach and they cannot return to the sea by themselves,’ he replied. ‘When the sun rises, they will die, unless I throw them back.’
I looked at the vast expanse of beach, stretching in both directions. Starfish littered the shore in numbers beyond calculation. The hopelessness of the boy’s plan became clear to me and I pointed out, ‘But there are more starfish on this beach than you can ever save before the sun is up. YOU CAN’T EXPECT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE.’
He paused briefly to consider my words, bent to pick up a starfish and threw it as far as possible. Turning to me he simply said, ‘I MADE A DIFFERENCE TO THAT ONE.’”
People are always coming and going in your life. We make quick assessments of most of them because they don’t live with us. To really get to know someone takes a personal investment of our time and energy. Most of us don’t make it a priority to allow other people into our lives. And certainly most of us don’t minister to others around us who are in need. We claim to be too busy. And certainly we don’t look for those needing rescue, like the young boy in this story. But then fortunately there are those of us who do.
My teenage friend Jordan Swearngin was like the Starfish Thrower. She was one of those lights in a busy world who made you reassess your priorities after being around her. Her antenna was always up, looking for those in need – the underdog, the outcast, the seeker, the lost – who needed to hear the only true source of salvation – Jesus Christ. She came ready to work each day to share with her coworkers about what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. She was always asking her friends to go to church with her.
But most importantly, she wanted to understand their questions on Christianity and be ready to give solid defenses for her faith. She made time for individual people – she made personal investments in each of their lives. And her goal was exactly the same as the Starfish Thrower – to make a difference in their life by showing them how they could be rescued – through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
In our verse this week, Jesus explains in Matthew 5:16 that His vision was to build His church not only upon truth but one built outwardly, like a bridge to the community, where the culture would see how Christians lived and the good works they did in His name. This “light” that shines within the hearts of Christians would be what attracts others to Jesus Christ, especially in 21st century American youth culture, where “making a difference” is claimed on college campuses as a top priority by our young people.
In His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said Christians must influence the world by allowing Him to shine through them. In John 8:12, Jesus said He is the Light. But in Matthew 5:16, He says we are the light. This is His vision: after His resurrection and ascension, we are the light because He lives in us!
Jordan Swearngin will one day get to hear all about the ministry her family did in Romania, that they fulfilled her vision to take the light of Jesus Christ to Romania and made a difference, one person at a time.