Dr. Timothy Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary, shared a fascinating illustration at a recent spiritual renewal conference at our church. The illustration captured my attention, and I share my recollection of it here. As a school boy in the Atlanta area, he made a number of field trips to the Atlanta Zoo. His favorite ‘animal celebrity’, as with most people who visited the zoo, was Willie B, a large silverback gorilla.
Willie B’s small enclosure drew the attention of many zoo patrons. They initiated a campaign to raise funding to construct a large and environmentally appropriate habitat for Willie B. The funding came in, and the community excitedly watched the progress of the project in local media. When the dedication day came for the new enclosure, a large crowd and the media gathered to observe Willie B’s first venture into his new home.
As he stepped out of the door of his small and rather sterile cage, he sat down near the door. He gazed at the large open space including trees, vines, grass, and pool of water. A few minutes later, Willie B got up turned around and went back inside. Perhaps overwhelmed by what he saw, he retreated from the new commodious surroundings into his cage. He seemed to favor the more familiar surroundings.
The application, for me, was immediately obvious. As church members, we are challenged by the Gospel of Jesus Christ to move outside the secure walls of our church. We are soon confronted with the realities of a fallen world – situations like broken homes, aborted lives, abused children, drugs, violence, greed and more. Many of the people we encounter are hostile and angry. They show little, if any, interest in the salvation message we attempt to share. Rejection and disappointment usually follow. So, like Willie B, we retreat into the confines of our less-menacing church environment. Under such a retreat, the Lord’s Great Commission to ‘go into all the world’ with the message of hope and salvation is given little more than lip service and a small check.
We prefer a non-threatening environment with ‘people like us’. We find our comfort level inside our small groups that aren’t so intimidating. But, as the Willie B’s of our Christian world, we must get out there! Jesus showed us the way by His example. Everyone who knows anything about the Gospels—and even those who don’t—knows that Jesus was a ‘friend of sinners’. We should find ourselves challenged by Jesus’ example and make sure we do not retreat from our fallen world in a way that Jesus never would.
Prayer: Lord, please don’t let me be a spiritual Willie B. With the help of the Holy Spirit, may I be willing to “go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
~ Brother Roy