Free to Be the Person God Is Making Us


A woman known to be her town’s “crazy cat lady” walks into the local pet store and makes a request of the owner.

“You want to buy a bird?” the man asked, shocked. “You have a lot of cats.”

“I know,” said the woman, “but the variety would be nice. A songbird, with a melody in its heart and lovely plumage. I really want a bird.”

“Birds fly. They don’t use a litter box. No ‘nine lives’ with a bird,” the pet shop owner shot back. “They demand attention.”

“Yes, yes,” the woman replied, “I know all that. A bird, please. How about that lovely yellow one.”

“The canary.” The owner gave a baleful look toward the bird on its perch nearby. He really liked that bird.

“It sings, right?”

The owner paused a moment, then he nodded.

A cage later and a few supplies, and the woman left with her bird.

Six weeks later, the woman was back in the store. And the owner could tell something was wrong. When he saw her pull out a paper bag and heard a faint peep, his heart sank.

The woman upended the bag on the pet shop counter and something yellow slid out.

The canary lay there, dazed. Two rubber bands wrapped around its wings and its barely there belly. Feathers were frayed and missing, and the pet shop owner noticed remnants of what might be masking tape on its beak. The bird had a distinct eye twitch and wheeze.

“Heavens!” the man cried. “What happened?”

“Well, for one,” the woman began, “it likes to sing at the crack of dawn and I’m not an early riser, so I had to deal with that. Then I let it out of the cage to exercise, and it got caught in the flypaper, so no more flying.”

She pointed to the rubber bands.

“It’s a terrible mouser and turns up its beak at my tuna,” she added. “Snotty little thing…as if the tuna I give my kitties is not good enough for it. A terrible playmate for them too.”

The pet shop owner could only stare, eyes traveling from the bedraggled bird to the woman.

“In summation, sir, I want my money back, because this is clearly not a cat.”


Free to BeI think it is the scourge of our times that no one is grateful for what he or she has. This extends to how we are perceived by other people, sadly, as it seems also that no one is satisfied with us as we are either.

A spouse who now isn’t good-looking enough or as fit as society demands.

A worker who works differently or doesn’t fit within the culture.

A child with unusual skills or ideas that aren’t like ours.

A church member with a few character flaws and one of those “out there” spiritual gifts.

The truth is, everyone wants us to be something–or someone–else. Too many people have a personal ideal in their heads they want to apply universally, standards and restrictions that while reasonable for them might be totally unreasonable when applied to someone else. The world wants a cat, and yet you and I may be birds.

In short, many of us are forced into being someone we’re not.

Where this proves heartbreaking is when a Christian is not good enough for his or her church.

Every church has some legalistic conformity lurking within it. Doesn’t matter if you’re a Calvinist, Pentecostal, Episcopalian, Evangelical Free, or whatever. Somewhere in your church is this idea that whomever it is that God has made you, that person you are is not good enough, not right enough, not conformed enough, or not gifted enough. You simply are not the person you should be.

And the only way to get out of that inadequacy is to ___________.

Now you can fill that blank with countless legalistic demands, but the fact remains: None of that is of God.

I can say that with some confidence because this is how God sees you (as written by the Apostle Paul):

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
–Philippians 1:6

If you are a born-again Christian, who began the work of making you to be the best you? God.

Who is currently doing that work in you? God.

Who is responsible for the timing of that work in your life? God.

So who on earth can say that the you you are right now is inadequate, not right, broken, unmanageable, incapable, lacking, ungifted, gifted wrongly, or any of a million other accusatory statements?

No one.

Actually, I’m wrong about that. There is one entity whose sole role is to go around telling you and me all those terrible things. Care to guess who? Hint: Think an entity Jesus vanquished utterly.

Tragically, people aren’t supposed to usurp the job of Satan, yet we do it all the time.

Now we would have to be optimistic fools to think that the world isn’t going to play accuser. The world’s in the grip of Satan.

But what excuses Christians to denigrate another Christian? When we act that way, aren’t we saying to God that He isn’t working so-and-so’s sanctification the right way? Aren’t we putting God on our timetable for His work in another’s life? Aren’t we simultaneously playing the role of both God and Satan? How totally messed up is that?

Folks, there’s wisdom in saying that God is working His way His way in the lives of every Christian on this planet. Sometimes we can help bolster that work when God asks us to, and sometimes He may ask us to be the voice of Truth in another’s life, but more often than not we give too much power to our efforts to remake people in our own image and not allow God the right to better them as He sees fit and in His timetable. We look at Philippians 1:6 and just blow it off, because deep down inside, we don’t believe it. We think we know better.

And that’s the oldest mistake in the Book.

Fate & Faith


A true story, with some parts tweaked to protect others…

When the economy cratered a few years back, resulting in an unforeseen layoff, Barry spent day after day looking for work. Turned it into a job like everyone said he should. But if Barry’s new job of looking for a job was any indication, he would have enjoyed a more lucrative career selling water on the moon.

Barry was a Christian, as was his wife, Karen, and their daughter, Krysta. None of them understood why God would make it so hard for a humble, talented man like Barry to support his family.

In time, the job hunt was supplemented with plenty of book-reading and music-listening. Barry fell in love with the bravura passages of little-known author Guy Ames. In fact, that admiration for Ames convinced Barry to try his own hand at writing a novel. He entitled it Unfinished Business.

After five years of unemployment, in which Barry did anything he could find to bring in money, he hit the motherload. A high school buddy he had not talked with in over 20 years called him out of the blue after Googling him. Jim, who owned a growing company, had just become a Christian, and after praying one night, felt compelled to ask what had happened to Barry. The Internet told Jim what he wanted to know, and he wanted the esoteric skills Barry had. In fact, he offered his old friend twice as much money as Barry had ever made.

But the job wouldn’t start for six weeks. Having been miserly for years, Barry decided to do something to celebrate. Guy Ames was speaking at a small writing conference in San Diego. Barry thought he’d kill a bunch of birds with one small stone, so he called the conference leaders and found that a few spaces still existed. Barry snapped up one, bought a plane ticket, reserved a hotel room, and worked up an elevator pitch for Unfinished Business.

When he announced that he was making this small personal pilgrimage, his wife was happy for him. She had a fear of flying, so she wasn’t interested in going, but Krysta read a brochure on the conference and saw one of her favorite authors was attending too. Soon, the trip was a dad and daughter thing. Given that Krysta was getting married in a few months, both she and her dad considered it one last dad-daughter event before another man became more important in her life.

The night before their departure, Krysta heard a voice. Over the past six months, she had increasingly heard what sounded like a voice, but this time the voice said something that sounded like real words: Don’t go on that trip. Krysta was terrified. The feeling of dread was so strong, she barely slept a wink all night in her apartment–except when she finally dropped off an hour before she was supposed to get up for her flight.

Barry forgot to call over to Krysta’s place just before he left, and when he arrived at the airport, he found he had also forgotten to charge his cell phone AND he left the charger back on the counter in the kitchen. Still, Krysta’s roommates, some of her old sorority sisters from college, were ultradependable, so Barry knew Krysta wouldn’t be too late because the girls wouldn’t allow it.

But when an elderly lady on standby looked like she was going to be bumped, Barry thought he’d be a gentleman and let her take his place. Krysta was obviously delayed, and catching the later flight made sense. Barry surrendered his seat. The airlines promised they’d move him up to first class, Krysta too.

Krysta never made it to the airport, though. She missed an exit, and ended up stuck in the aftermath gridlock caused by a semi rollover on the highway.

Barry wasn’t sure what was happening with Krysta, but hearing one of his favorite bands blaring from the headphones of the young man sitting next to him told he should get on that plane and let Krysta figure it out. She was a big girl and could fix her own problems.

Fly like an eagle, to the sea.

Fly like an eagle, let my spirit carry me.

Barry was going to see that band when he got back. He already had the tickets; a second gift, but this time one Karen would like too.

Just 12 minutes before it was to land, Barry’s plane took a lightning strike to an engine. Normally, the lightning arrestor worked fine, but it had been replaced and reattached incorrectly by a mechanic. At the inquest, it came out that the mechanic had been up late partying after attending a rock concert, one given by the band Barry would never live to hear. The engine caught fire, and the wing of the plane lost integrity. The plane went down just off the coast of California, all 113 aboard perishing.

In the aftermath, Krysta told her mother about the voice, and they both held each other for a long time, stunned. Krysta’s fiancé called it a miracle. Karen and Kyrsta didn’t feel that was the best choice of words. Still, when she spoke at her father’s memorial service, Krysta found herself using that word too.

Guy Ames had to cancel his appearance at the workshop due to a ruptured appendix. He later felt that brush with death was a wake-up call. Four months of healing later, he  took his meager book earnings and launched a small software firm that Google bought, ensuring he never had to worry about money again. He never wrote anything else.

Just 11 days before her wedding, Krysta came down with what felt like the flu. At least that’s what the doctor told her. She stayed in bed to try to rest up, and that was where her roommates found her, dead. The autopsy showed a large, fast-growing brain tumor. She was 23.

One of Krysta’s roommates was so touched by what happened, the only way she could deal with it was through song. She and the other roommates formed a band and recorded the song. “Then She Was Gone” was a minor hit online, and the band Scarlet Queens, enjoyed the peculiarity of being an all-female death metal band, though they never made it big and folded a couple years later.

Life wasn’t good for the survivor. Like her daughter, Karen crawled into bed and stayed there. During her self-imposed beddedness, she could not keep her eyes off a pile of paper on Barry’s dresser. It was the manuscript for Unfinished Business–unfinished. Karen had never read one word of it.

On the 29th day of her exile, she took the manuscript down and spent the rest of the day lost in it. She admitted that this was a side of Barry she had never seen. The novel was actually superb, with deft characterizations and a killer story about an author who burns his writing career to the ground to start a software company that eventually grosses him a fortune. The novel had all the trappings of one of those mystical crossovers into the business book genre, filled with down-homey aphorisms about life, the corporate world, and spirituality. And Karen smelled money. Heaven knows Barry didn’t leave her anything.

Karen, who had not even an iota of creative authoring skill, was nonetheless a sharp-eyed editor. She tightened the narrative and found a publisher on just her fourth query letter.

Unfinished Business became a publishing phenomenon, with some claiming it changed their lives, and Karen became a wealthy woman.

She also became the target of every guy who could get her number. After one lothario took her for a couple million, she withdrew from public life. Money didn’t buy happiness, and loneliness ate at her soul. She missed her daughter and husband dreadfully. That weight turned to bitterness, and somewhere along the way, Karen and God parted ways. So much so, that when she died of lupus a few years later, she left the estate to American Atheists for a Better Tomorrow.

Now, what does that story say about God? About his sovereignty? About the work of the Enemy? About the mysteries of life?

How is it that the good fortune Barry received set in motion events that led to his death? Did God cause the lightning strike? Or the Enemy? Or dumb luck? Why did Barry’s act of kindness end in his death? And wouldn’t it have been more “fair” for the elderly woman to die instead? And what about the pointlessness of it all, with the writer Barry flew to see canceling? How is it that Barry wrote a book that mirrored that writer’s future life? What is the point of Krysta avoiding the plane crash only to die a few weeks later? And how can God allow all this to end in a huge wad of cash going to an atheist organization?

If you’re a Christian reading that story, no doubt you started to make connections. You tried to find some redemptive thread in it all, because that’s what we seem obsessed with: Making sense of life.

But what if there is no sense to be had in that story?

In the American Church today, we fall prey to a compulsion to find meaning in everything. If something doesn’t make sense on the surface, we have to make it make sense.

I think this is dangerous; it borders on divination.

That divination danger does scare some Christians, so much so that they flee in the opposite direction. To avoid being seen as crystal-ball gazers, even remotely, they chicken out of showing any faith.

Over at the normally reliable Parchment & Pen blog, C. Michael Patton shows us what happens when Christians blanch in the face of dealing with the vicissitudes of life and how we view God. In “Will God Protect My Children?” Patton has patiently nursed a redemptive relationship with a lost soul, but when that man asks the eponymous question, Patton rolls over and plays dead.

We have a case here of conflating the mistake of trying to scry sense out of life’s odd twists and turns with giving into the fear that we might be forced to explain God’s seeming lack of love for us when something goes wrong.

Can we make sense of everything in life? No. But can we trust God to make sense in Himself? We must. Anything else is not faith. At some point we must be able to say to that lost man that God does in fact protect our children and we must trust Him for that. Patton says the Scriptures don’t promise anything, but is that true?

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
    nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
    and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
    and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
    no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
    I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble,
    I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”

–Psalm 91 NIV

That’s either true or it isn’t. If you’re a Christian, you know which it must be.

Jesus blessing the childrenThe story of Barry, his family, and the others who swirl around them told above is true–in a way. It contains bits and pieces of stories cobbled together. Regardless of its truth as a whole, the fact remains that it could be anyone’s story. We all have stories of strange coincidences and odd events that happen in life, sometimes lengthy ones. Our issue is when we attempt to draw any conclusions from those events and to create a supernatural narrative from them. The fact is, we just can’t. Unless we have some direct revelation from God that explains everything, 99.99% of the time we’re going to get the explanation wrong. We’re not God, and we are too limited to know how every piece fits together and for what reason.

However, what we must never do in the face of reality is to abdicate saying anything positive about how God operates. We know what His promises are. We have to be able to cling to those or else all of life goes off the rails. We can’t try to explain everything that happens in life, but neither should we deny that He is faithful just because we can’t guarantee understanding the fallout of a situation that may go horribly wrong. If we do, we might as well chuck the whole thing. Patton might as well just tell his lost friend, “You know what? Like you, I got nothin’.”

God help us if that’s where we’re heading in the American Church today.

Down from the Ledge: Why the Church Needs to Drop the “Leap of Faith”


I miss reading Michael Spencer, the late, lamented Internet Monk. Since his passing, I don’t read his site as much, though Spencer’s successor, Chaplain Mike, does have a worthy post from time to time.

A post there that has drawn attention, Pastor Piper Scares the Kids, drew mine, and while many commenters have enjoyed ganging up on an ill-conceived children’s message from noted pastor John Piper, there’s another aspect to the Piper illustration I wish to address. So, go read that post, and I’ll wait for you.

{Thumb twiddling…}

Back? Good.

Now for my thoughts.

If there is a sin in the Piper illustration of the little boy jumping from a diving board to escape a vicious dog, it’s not really in the plethora of sub-images that riled the commenters at Internet Monk. For me, it’s the ubiquitous primary image of the “leap of faith” that Christians seem to always fall back upon when talking about how faith in God works.

This idea of a person confronted with a difficult decision hurling his person from a high place only to be caught by a faithful God could not be a more abyssmal illustration. Why the Church insists on using it is beyond me.

Here’s the major problem with the “leap of faith” analogy:

Then the devil took [Jesus] to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
—Matthew 4:5-7 ESV

See the problem? The Enemy comes to tempt Jesus and asks Him to make a leap of faith. Jesus replies that He (and by extension, we) knows better than to test God that way.


Smart people would say that pretty much should end the whole idea of the leap of faith motif. Jesus says don’t test God like that.

How is it, then, that we’ve made the leap of faith the cornerstone of how we explain faith in God to others? And why is it we persist in doing something we should not do, testing God again and again? And how is it possible that we use this image as a way to encourage people facing difficult choices?

We need to stop using the leap of faith as an illustration of putting our faith in God. It simply is not biblical.

You’d think that would be the end of this post, but I have a bit more to add that I think is important.

Some of you remember the 1980s. (And some of you are trying to forget them, but bear with me…)

I spent most of the 1980s working both in summer and in year-round Christian camping ministry. At one camp, I was put in charge of the challenge course, a nicely designed set of outdoor tasks used in team-building exercises. Being the sole extrovert of the group that handled outdoor education at the camp, I was pretty much assured of the job by default.

I led church groups, youth groups, school groups, homeschool groups, and business teams through the course. We had a high wall the team had to get over under certain conditions, water crossings they had to make without getting wet, and so on. Trust fallThe course had about a dozen stations, the last of which was a trust fall.

Ah, the trust fall. The leap of faith made concrete.

The trust fall station was a platform about six feet off the ground. People would climb the platform, turn their back to the rest of the group, and fall horizontally into the outstretched arms of their waiting team below.

I monitored this process like I was in charge of handling 10 pounds of weapons-grade plutonium. I never participated with a group, but I ran them through the safety procedures like a drill sergeant. On my watch, no one was ever dropped or ever came close. Not even the 450-pound woman who made the platform groan, though I definitely inserted myself into the group catching her.

Can you predict what’s coming?

One day, a youth group I’d grown attached to over the week convinced me to take the fall and let them catch me. I’d done the fall with members of the camp staff before, so it wasn’t like I was new to the experience myself, so despite my Spidey sense a-tingling, I climbed the platform. I told myself there were half dozen adults with the group, so it’s wasn’t like I was entrusting myself to a bunch of 13-year-old kids solely.

I ran through the safety steps, did the countdown, and took that leap of faith into the certainly waiting arms of the group.

Now, I didn’t hear anyone yell, “Squirrel,” but somehow the group’s attention wandered elsewhere, and I hit the ground flat from six feet up, having felt a grand total of one arm brush past me on the way down.

Imagine being hit from behind with 10-dozen sledgehammers. The ground shook like it was the end of the world. So did I. Ouch.

It was a darned good thing I had hit perfectly flat, because if I had rotated just a bit too much and landed on my neck, I might be writing from a wheelchair today.

I’ll come back to that scene of near-personal-destruction in a moment.

We in the Church use the leap of faith to encourage fellow Christians to put their faith in God when faced with a difficult decision that indeed requires faith to address. But for those of us not making that leap, where are we in that decision-making process, its follow-through, and aftermath?

Here’s the thing: Some people who make such leaps end up dashed on the rocks below.

While it was not quite rocks for me in that trust fall moment, it was packed, hard ground. The aftermath of my collision with cold, hard reality included screaming girls, people running around, and adults yelling, “Omigod, omigid, omigod…” over and over and over. In short, pandemonium.

But how do we react in the Church when someone we encourage to jump and put their faith in God is NOT caught by the faithful God we insist will be there but instead meets the packed, hard ground?

My experience? Most of the time we go on as if nothing happened.

You would think that after encouraging the leap and witnessing the horror of a collision with the earth, pandemonium would break out and we would scream and start calling for help. That’s what the group did that dropped me. Once the initial panic subsided, everyone eventually settled into triage mode. If people had simply wandered off, whistling as they went, we would think something was seriously wrong in the moral lives of those people. It was bad enough that this big 6′ 4″, 200-pound man was dropped by 20 people, but for them to walk away as if nothing had happened would border on criminal.

And yet that happens to people in the Church who make a leap of faith and end up smashed to pieces. Many are simply left to tend to their own predicament alone, while the Church wanders off as if nothing happened, ready to tell the next leaper to jump.

We can’t do that. It’s morally reprehensible.

A few warnings about how we Christians approach dealing with people facing difficult choices that require faith:

1. If we are faced with others ready to take a leap of faith, we better darned well understand from how high they are jumping and just what awaits them below before we give them the thumbs up.

2. If we are not prepared to face that faithful decision as a co-“jumper” with the person faced with a leap, we should never tell another person to hurl himself or herself off the cliff. Ever.

3. If we are not prepared to deal with the aftermath of a leap, then we must stop advising others to jump.

Personally, I am dead sick tired of watching Christians plunge to their doom because of the leap of faith mentality we have in the Church. In real life, there’s something sick about the person who tries to convince the person on the ledge of a high building to jump off. I don’t think that Christianizing a figurative jump is any better. And I think that casually walking away from the aftermath of a fall that didn’t end with the jumper nestled sweetly in the arms of God is the sickest response of all.

Can we grow up a little and start being a collective body of believers? Can we start doing a better job of dealing with fellow Christians who go out in faith and come back in little shards? Because it happens. If it didn’t happen, there would be no faith element to it. There would be no risk.

How we deal with the aftermath of people who do come back in pieces says everything about what we really believe. And what I’m seeing isn’t pretty.

But for all I just wrote, there’s that truth from Jesus again: Don’t test God by jumping from high places.

I wish we could just drop the leap of faith mentality. If Jesus said not to test God that way, then we shouldn’t. Period.

Time to come up with a more mature attitude toward faith and the aftermath of decisions made in faith.