The water buffalo flips

I love acrobatics, but . . well . . I am as acrobatic as a water buffalo.

The water buffalo has an excuse not to be acrobatic.  I don’t know what my excuse is.  As a kid, I was as stringy as a piece of stretched-out gum.  So you would think I’d have more talent than a water buffalo.  Maybe it was for that reason my mom signed me up for a gymnastics class when I was about seven.

Can a water buffalo flip?
You betcha.
[Photograph by Haphazard Traveler]

One day, the coaches told us that we would do a running flip without hands.  We would run across a puffy mat and do a total air flip.  I was so young that I don’t remember if we had a ramp or bouncy pad to help us get momentum.  But I do remember the flip.  How I remember the flip!

I have about about as much athleticism as a brontosaurus, agility as a rhinoceros, and as much ability to flip my body as an ostrich.  What were the changes of me succeeding in a running flip?  All right, probably 0.  What were the changes of me landing on my nose?  Much higher.

The idea of running and flipping is scary when you’ve never done it and you’re as acrobatic as a fence post.  But the thrill of thinking I could actually do a running flip (in my delusional, 7-year-old head) drove me on.

I remember the other little girls running across the mat, flipping like popcorn in the microwave.  I think one girl had a problem, because she was too scared or didn’t want to follow the directions.  Everybody else made the flip.  As we stood in the line and watched the other girls flip, I had fear.  Not the fear that I would be too scared–I jumped off swings and ran up slides as a kid–but that I wouldn’t make it.  It would be embarrassing to find out that you couldn’t flip in the middle of a flip. It would be embarrassing to fall like a tangled slinky in front of gold-medal flippers and my coaches.

I ran down those mats like it was an airplane runway.  I threw my fears back, and I ran in front of them.  I remember one thing in very particular, one thing that has stuck with me for 20-some years now–one thing I haven’t told you yet.

I remember the coach crouched down by the end of the runway mat.

I remember him for two reasons:

  • He was the kindest coach I have ever been coached by.  He had a smile on his face so at ease, so loving, and so reassuring that it was almost easy to do the flip.
  • If I simply committed myself to the flip, he had committed himself to taking care of the rest.

All I had to do was commit myself to the flip.  I didn’t have to be able to flip.  I could be a giraffe going down that runway, with as much hope of a successful flip.  But I couldn’t be a mannequin.  I couldn’t passively run and expect to be flipped.  The coach would not force us to flip or try to flip us when we weren’t committed.  We could fall and hurt ourselves if we were unready to flip or undecided or unwilling.  Landing on your head is no fun thing.  The coach had our best interest in mind; he wasn’t going to make us flip to our harm.

I had a lot of trust in him as I ran down that runway.  In fact, I had almost total trust–but not totally total.  Would he really be able to flip me?  Would I be able to commit to the flip?  Would he let me fall in front of my classmates?  I wouldn’t know until I tried.

Running hard, I committed myself to the flip.  Committing yourself to the flip means you must drop your head down.  This is counter to anything your body would like you to do.  I had fallen head-first on the bar of a shopping cart about a year before, and, let me tell you, falling head down is no delight.  Against my self-protecting instinct, I dropped my head and, at this point, if there was no intervention, bad things really were going to happen.

I remember the coaches’ hands on my back and stomach, so expertly that as he intervened in what would have been a fall, I knew I would make the flip.  He flipped me in a full somersault, mid-air.

What did I feel?  What did I feel?

I felt like an acrobat.

I was an acrobat.

The water buffalo . . FLIPPED.

It was one of the most triumphant moments of my childhood.  I could have danced around the room–but then I would have given away that I really do have the coordination of a water buffalo.

I glowed.  I have held onto that moment for all these years, all the more because I was so pitiful in sports.  It is one thing to do a flip if you are an Olympian.  It is another thing to do a flip if you only watch the Olympics on television.  I was beside myself with joy.

. . . This is such a good picture of salvation to me.  I know it’s not a perfect picture, but I believe God gave me this moment just for such an illustration.

God could have made salvation totally Him.  In fact, it would seem to make sense to do so!  God is the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving one.  We are, well, we are a mess!

The ability to offer salvation comes only from God.  As I couldn’t have taken the place of that gymnastic coach and flipped myself . . or flipped the other girls (without catastrophe), we can’t be the one who offers salvation to ourselves, or anyone else.

Only God has the ability to offer.  That comes totally from His gift on the cross.  When Jesus died for our sins, He was the only one who could pay for our sins.  He was the only one talented enough.  Jesus lived a perfect life, and He is the only one who has ever done so.

So when I say that God could have made salvation totally Him, I don’t mean that we are talented enough to earn salvation for ourselves, or that we play any part in earning salvation.  We don’t.

But we also aren’t mannequins in the salvation.  We cannot be saved only because God offers salvation.  The gymnastics coach offered to teach us how to flip, but that did not mean all of us girls would flip.  We had to trust his offer.

In a little of the same way, we have to trust God’s offer to save us. God offering salvation doesn’t save us. Christ holds His payment for our sins in His hands, ready to give this precious gift to anyone who will open their hands to receive.  But that does not mean everyone receives forgiveness for their sins.

The gymnastics coach could have forced us to flip.  But girls would have gotten hurt and there would have been no trust or victory.

Could God “force” us to be saved?  Maybe, but what kind of salvation would that be?  The beauty of Jesus’ spilled blood is that it is a free gift of love.  The Bible makes it plain: we have to receive His gift through faith.  Faith is not about earning the gift, it is about receiving the gift.  I couldn’t drop my head without faith that my coach would make the flip possible.  In a little of the same way, we can’t be saved without faith that Jesus will save us.  It is our faith that God uses to reveal the masterpiece of His work on the cross through our lives.

Just as the flip was only, extremely only possible because the coach did all the work, so our salvation is only, extremely only possible because Jesus did all the work for us on the cross.  Dropping my head was not part of the flip.  I can drop my head right now and I won’t do a mid-air somersault, I can guarantee you that!  Dropping my head was simply trusting that the coach would do the actual work of the flip.  In the same way, praying for salvation is simply trusting that Jesus will do the actual work of salvation.

. . . If you are ready to trust Him, why not pray right now for Him to do His work of salvation in your life?  The prayer itself won’t save you, but the trust you have–if you really have trust in Him–will get you ready for His work of salvation.  (By the way, how much trust in Jesus do you need?  Run to Him with what you have.)

Dear Jesus,

I want You to save me.  It’s scary, because I sometimes want to try to save myself, but I believe that You, and You alone, can do the work of saving me. I know You are able to save me from even my worst sins because You paid for them on the cross. I trust You to save me.

In Your Name, Amen.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 6:2, ESV)

Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.

(Revelation 22:17b, NIV)

“If you had known God’s free gift,” replied Jesus, “and who it is that said to you, ‘Give me some water,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

(John 4:10, Jesus talking to the woman at the well, Weymouth NT)

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

(Romans 3:22, NLT)


Photograph by Haphazard Traveler, profile on

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.


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