Several years ago an old white guy came to the church I was attending in Franklin, Tennessee to preach at a rare Sunday night service (Presbyterians don’t have a tendency to overdue a whole lot besides being pretty predictable). The message Steve Brown shared that night was so refreshing, it was if he’d handed my thirsty soul a tall glass of fresh squeezed lemonade on a balmy summer day. I ended up buying his latest book at the time, A Scandalous Freedom, even grabbed a copy for my brother too. Since then, Steve has become one of my favorite authors and preachers. The following is from his latest book “Three Free Sins”. Still need to order me a copy.
Once upon a time, there lived a man named Clarence who had a pet frog named Felix. Clarence lived a modestly comfortable existence on what he earned working at the Wal-Mart, but he always dreamed of being rich. “Felix!” he said one day, hit by sudden inspiration, “We’re going to be rich! I’m going to teach you to fly!”
Felix, of course, was terrified at the prospect. “I can’t fly, you twit! I’m a frog, not a canary!”
Clarence, disappointed at the initial response, told Felix: “That negative attitude of yours could be a real problem. We’re going to remain poor, and it will be your fault.”
So Felix and Clarence began their work on flying.
On the first day of the “flying lessons,” Clarence could barely control his excitement (and Felix could barely control his bladder). Clarence explained that their apartment building had 15 floors, and each day Felix would jump out of a window, starting with the first floor and eventually getting to the top floor. After each jump, they would analyze how well he flew, isolate the most effective flying techniques, and implement the improved process for the next flight. By the time they reached the top floor, Felix would surely be able to fly.
Felix pleaded for his life, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. “He just doesn’t understand how important this is,” thought Clarence. “He can’t see the big picture.”
So, with that, Clarence opened the window and threw Felix out. He landed with a thud.
The next day, poised for his second flying lesson, Felix again begged not to be thrown out of the window. Clarence told Felix about how one must always expect resistance when introducing new, innovative plans.
With that, he threw Felix out the window. THUD!
Now this is not to say that Felix wasn’t trying his best. On the fifth day, he flapped his legs madly in a vain attempt at flying. On the sixth day, he tied a small red cape around his neck and tried to think “Superman” thoughts. It didn’t help.
By the seventh day, Felix, accepting his fate, no longer begged for mercy. He simply looked at Clarence and said, “You know you’re killing me, don’t you?”
Clarence pointed out that Felix’s performance so far had been less than exemplary, failing to meet any of the milestone goals he had set for him.
With that, Felix said quietly, “Shut up and open the window,” and he leaped out, taking careful aim at the large jagged rock by the corner of the building.
Felix went to that great lily pad in the sky.
Clarence was extremely upset, as his project had failed to meet a single objective that he had set out to accomplish. Felix had not only failed to fly, he hadn’t even learned to steer his fall as he dropped like a sack of cement, nor had he heeded Clarence’s advice to “Fall smarter, not harder.”
The only thing left for Clarence to do was to analyze the process and try to determine where it had gone wrong. After much thought, Clarence smiled and said…
“Next time, I’m getting a smarter frog!”
A number of years ago, I realized that I was, as it were, trying to teach frogs to fly. Frogs can’t fly. Not only that, they get angry when you try to teach them. The gullible ones will try, but they eventually get hurt so badly they quit trying. And let me tell you a secret: the really sad thing about being a “frog flying teacher” is that I can’t fly either.
If you are a teacher trying to teach frogs to fly, nobody ever bothers to ask if you can fly. In fact, if you pretend that you’re an expert and tell a lot of stories about flying; if you can throw in a bit of aeronautical jargon about stalls, spins, and flight maneuvers; and if you can carry around a flying manual and know your way around it, nobody will question your ability to fly. You just pretend you’re an expert, and the students think you can fly.
For years, as a preacher charged with preventing people from sinning, that was my problem (and sometimes it still is). I became so phony I could hardly stand myself.
I know, I know, there is a lot more to being a preacher and a pastor than keeping people from sinning, but if you become obsessed with sin prevention, it begins to take over everything you do and teach. Pretty soon you become a police officer, and the crime is sin. You spend your time trying to discern what is and what isn’t sin, you emphasize “sin prevention” by teaching how to avoid sin and stay pure, and you create a disciplinary process whereby sin is punished in the name of Jesus and “for their own good.”