The Two Dog Analogy
Have you ever heard the analogy of the two dogs? My guess is that most of us have heard this in some form or another. Many, like me, have probably heard a version of it in a sermon before. It’s made its way into pop culture. The illustration made its way into the Disney movie Tomorrowland, family-friendly fare starring George Clooney and Hugh Laurie and based on the area of Disneyland sharing the same name.
This story is simple: if you have two dogs, the dog you feed more to will win in a fight. This anecdote has been attributed to Native Americans, though the first time it surfaced seems to have actually been in a book by Billy Graham. There are many things we could contrast with one another using this picture, and the challenge for us today is whether we would feed faith or feed fear.
A Faith Venture in a Tumultuous Time
The years 2020-2021 were years in which we experienced a lot of upheaval. Regardless of what the motivating factors may have been, governments began making decisions that affected every system that is a part of our everyday experience. In a country founded on religious freedom, many churches were banned from meeting together in person, a clear violation of living as an ecclesia, a soma, a people called together in Christ (Hebrews 10:25). There were restrictions on human connection, on travel, on the ways we participate in the economy. In many places, people were restricted to their homes. Children were sent out from schools to learn at home. We began to dress, speak, and relate in ways we never had before. To add to everything else, this all happened during a presidential election season, and so our natural pull toward politicizing things went into overdrive.
In addition to everything else, our human response to a scary new sickness brought previously unknown disruption to the global economy that has been growing for over a half century. The United States and our brand of capitalism was the leading force in that global economy, and so while many of us have anticipated and longed for a return to something normal, the effects continue to drag on.
If there is any word to capture the global mood of 2020-2021, that word may be fear. Whether fearful of the virus or fearful of the human responses to it, we’ve all had to deal with changes that have had a devastating effect on us.
It’s in the midst of this that we have come together in a faith venture.
The Language of Faith, the Language of Fear
“Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.
For by it our ancestors won God’s approval.”
“Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God — God remains in him and he in God. And we have come to know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him. In this, love is made complete with us so that we may have confidence on the day of judgment, because as he is, so also are we in this world.
There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears is not complete in love.
We love because he first loved us.”
Jesus defines the greatest love as giving up our life for a friend (John 15:13). This is the love that we know in Christ.
The voice of faith, then, says this: “Lord, lead me to give of myself that you may be glorified. Make me so complete in your love that I require nothing else to satisfy me.” When we are made complete in this type of love, we do not fear what we may lose, because we have come to consider all things loss for the sake of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8).
Fear of losing those things outside of Christ that comfort and complete us, or sometimes are idolatrous to us, keep us from venturing out in faith. Just as in the life of Paul, we aspire to be wholly satisfied in Christ, because it was through Christ all things were created, and to Christ all things are owed. The voice of fear is the voice that speaks out the things we require, the things we cannot lose, that would keep us from giving up our desires and comforts for the other.
Faith Over Fear
Faith acknowledges that there may be loss, but that the reward will be greater than the loss. Do we have faith that God is building His Kingdom? Do we have faith that God’s love is for the lost, the broken, and the hurting, within our church and outside of it?
Even as we are redeemed in Christ, our hearts can easily deceive us (Jeremiah 17:9-10). Yesterday I shared a prayer that when I find my actions inconsistent with faith and wholeness in Christ, I pray something along these lines: “LORD, please show me the lie that I am believing and lead me to truth.” The freedom we gain from truth is not a one-time event. It is ongoing. It is a tragic irony that this verse has been taken from its context—“If you continue in my word, you are really my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” (John 8:31-32).
Remaining as we are and where we are does not require faith. Fear requires us to manage our loss, to maintain the familiar. Faith requires us to move into the unknown. But we know Christ. We know Christ is worthy of our whole life, and he is the one our faith is in (John 12:24-26).
Hebrews 11 gives us stories to illustrate what faith is. Faith tries. Faith requires movement. Faith does something at the risk of great loss…in fact, there is always loss of something. Faith is rewarded with the nearness of God.
That “dog” named fear isn’t going anywhere. It’s still going to be here, and its going to beg you to feed it. It will gobble up every self-thought that it is offered, and it will be strengthened. It will be fed by focusing attention on the things that may be lost.
Let’s nourish that “dog” named faith. Individually and together, faith will be nourished by meditating on Christ, abiding in prayer, and the word. Faith will be fed by putting on the truth and receiving the freedom it brings. It will be fed by acknowledging and seeking God in Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Faith will be fed through exercising its muscle, by stepping out into something new, led by the truth and goodness in Christ, through the strength given us by the Holy Spirit.
For 2022, let’s believe for the best, that faith will triumph over fear, and Christ will be exalted in us and on the earth!