Terry Billings is one of those fellows who has never done anything part way. He is known as a “full speed ahead” kind of man. He is this way about his business–meat processing and restaurant. He is this way about his family. And since last summer, when he became a follower of Jesus, he has been this way about his faith.
He begins his days in the kitchen of his pastor, Glenn Sandifer, being discipled. He continues the day by sharing with his customers, kin and old drinking buddies about what a change Jesus has made in his life.
He is active in every phase of his church. He comes to Sunday school and to discipleship training having studied the lesson. Questions and observations about Scripture just bubble over as they come to his sharp mind. He is such a pleasant person, such a searcher, that folks listen and respond.
Like many new Christians, Terry has pondered why those of us who have been believers for many years, while not bad or evil, seem to be far less excited about our faith than he is. One day he shared with us the following observation which helped him understand and properly shamed us.
Terry mentioned that he has three dogs at his home. Two of them, a Lab and a Collie, have spent their lives in the yard of his farm home. Most of the time they lie around the yard. They stir when someone arrives or departs, when some stray creature comes by, and when they are fed.
The other dog, a fiest (small terrier), lives in the house. While his indoor life is very pleasant, he loves to be able to get out in the yard. There, he runs around sniffing of everything. He nips at the much larger dogs and invites them to a romp. He chases after the livestock.
It seems as though the sights, smells and space of the out-of-doors are thrilling to him. Terry thinks that the house dog cannot understand why the yard dogs are not as excited about their habitat as he is.
Terry identifies himself with the house dog. Church and Christianity are a new environment. There are so many things to learn. There are so many things to do. There is so much that he has missed. The sights, smells, and space of the Christian life are exciting to him.
He wonders why the long-time Christians who have enjoyed this freer environment for many years do not have the same level of excitement that he has. He wonders why they seem to just lay alternately in the shade or the sun of the faith and let life pass them by. He wonders why they express so little interest in learning and experiencing the freedom of their faith. He wonders why they are so passive about sharing the gospel. He tries to arouse them from their spiritual slumbers.
He is nice about this. We listen. We stir. But we have grown flabby. Not only do us “old yard dogs” have trouble learning new tricks, it appears that we have difficulty of reviving the activities that once were so precious and thrilling to us, as well.
It appears that Terry in finding freedom from the sins of lust and pride now finds himself in the pack that is characterized by the sin of sloth. Many of us in the pack can remember when we first experienced the freedom that comes with the faith. We also remember how we became part of a pack that had become slothful. And we realize that we have become like the others, lazy, complacent Christians.
I hope that Terry will not be worn down. I hope that he will continue to nip at us in his pleasant, playful way. I hope that we will awake from our slumbers. I hope that we will have “the joy of our faith” restored within us.
Gary Farley is partner in the Center for Rural Church leadership, Carrollton, Ala.