Epiphany Denied

My deal is that I’m constantly trying to improve myself.  Seems great.  Except that I’m all about the books and podcasts and blogs and Instagram motivational pictures, and all that stuff.  But I’m a little light on the actual… improvement.  I know what I need to do.  I just don’t do it.  I came to the firm conclusion that I just don’t want to change.  I was listening to Tony Robbins and he made an excellent point.  Change doesn’t actually take a long time.  Preparation for change takes a long time.  It takes years of fighting with diets without losing any weight.  Because you don’t really follow them.  But at some point, in an instant moment, you just finally decide that you’re going to get healthy.  And you do.  And it wasn’t the years of working on change that did it.  It was the instantaneous decision that this time it was for real and you really were going to pursue your health.

So my assumption was that this invariably was the result of an epiphany moment.  That moment when suddenly everything in your life became crystal clear.  You saw your true purpose and the clear path to pursue it.  Your calling in life is revealed to you.  And motivation is no longer an issue because you’ve had this epiphany.  And from that moment on, everything was different.  Smooth sailing.  Almost effortless because your goals and mission and purpose were suddenly aligned.

Oh, and that’s not something you create.  It’s something that happens TO YOU.  And it comes from God.  So I would pray for it.  A lot.  And I would hear stories about other people having these epiphany moments.  And I’d wish I could have one.  And I’d pray for one.  A lot.

And I wouldn’t get one.  Like… ever.  Nope.  No epiphany moment.  No swinging wide the floodgates of change.  Nothing.

Epiphany denied.

I was sitting in church a couple of weeks ago and it hit me.  I’m never going to get one.  Other people get one because it’s right for them.  God knows them perfectly and knows they will change their lives based on that epiphany.  But he knows me too.  And he knows that he could toss an epiphany at me and I’d squander it.  I’m not saying that to be down on myself.  It doesn’t make me a bad person.  It just means I’m not someone who instantly turns their life around on a dime because of an epiphany event.  So why would God give one to me?

So I figured God has stuck me into this life that I’m in and has given me a healthy dose of dissatisfaction.  Not because my life is bad.  But because I know I could bring more to my life and those around me than I do.  That type of dissatisfaction.  It’s a healthy type of dissatisfaction.  And I have a lot of it.  But I just never seem to take the action needed satisfy it.

Work is an excellent example.  I have a great job, but I don’t make my production goals on a daily basis.  Often I miss them by a lot.  In prior jobs I would excel to a point based on people liking me.  (Who wouldn’t??  I’m fantastic.)  But at some point the extent to which people like you fades into the background and you need to produce.  And I wouldn’t produce.  And it would be time to move on.  I’d be smart enough to see it coming and I’d bail and look for a new job and I’d get one, and often a better one.  I moved up and up and up.  And finally I was fired from a sales job because I just wasn’t hitting my production.  It finally caught up to me.  So I left an entire industry this time and went to law school.  And I did well.  But after a while the production slid, but I was able to hide again and I pulled through with decent grades.  On to being a lawyer.

And then I get this job as a lawyer.  The same one I have now.  Ten years.  That’s a long time for a guy who has production issues.  Why hasn’t this one blown up yet?  Even though year after year I’ve missed my mark?  Because my employer has made the decision to stick with me.  And I’ve given them plenty of reasons to bail on me.  But they just refuse.  To be honest, there have been times that I wish they would have fired me.  Because then I could replace my anger with myself around production with anger at them for firing me.  And I could hide from it again.  Start fresh.  Again.

But they just won’t do it.  Even worse, they keep giving me greater incentive to stay.  Better benefits.  Good raises.  What is the deal?

And I have figured it out.  This is the ultimate denial of an epiphany, and a denial of my ability to hide my weakness on production.  None of my excuses work any more.  And running on personality alone ran dry years ago.  It’s been a decade.  And they’ve turned the heat up.  I have to produce this year.  Time is up.  And I am.  I’m finally producing the quality and quantity of work that I’ve been capable of all along.

So why go through all this personal story.  The point I guess I’m trying to make is that God knows us better than we know ourselves.  When I was asking for an epiphany I didn’t really want one.  It would be more accurate to say that I just wanted God to solve this production issue for me.  I’d rather not develop myself.  Let’s just have God wave his wand and fix me all up.  Nothing required from me before.

I know God pretty well and that just not usually how he works.  At least not in my life.  My struggle and journey to solve this central problem in my life has taught me everything about myself.  It’s actually forced me to accept that there are things that are RIGHT about me, where I normally prefer to just focus on everything that is wrong.  It was the equivalent of God being the best friend that shoves you out onto the dance floor in high school because he knows you can dance if you’ll just quit talking yourself out of it.

Not really super organized thoughts or lessons on this post, I suppose.  But I’m feeling grateful for a God who denies us the very thing we want the most because he knows us better than we know ourselves.  And I’m thankful that I don’t leave work feeling like crap about myself every day.  This life is a pretty good life.  I suppose that’s about all that’s on my mind today.

Thanks for reading.  Go be a hero, okay?

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It’s just not funny anymore…

I have kind of a natural ability to make people laugh. If you could see a shot of me in a swimsuit you’d know why!

You see that right there? That opening? That little crack about myself? I do it all the time. All the time. I think it’s about enough. I cut myself down constantly. It originally started with the desire to not be one of those Christians that acts like he knows everything. I wanted to be, and still want to be, just the “regular guy” who is in on this shockingly cool story that most of the world misunderstands (including most Christians I think.)

So I make fun of myself. I laugh about my weight. My lack of punctuality. Missing goals at work. Starting things and never finishing them. I joke about it. But at what point am I actually just normalizing all this stuff I do? You make light of something for 20 years and all of a sudden one day you wake up and realize you’ve accepted these things as normal.

That day was today for me.

Let’s not take this too far.  There’s still plenty in life that is hillarious.  I’m not going to become one of those blowhards that acts like he knows everything. I don’t know everything. But being 80 pounds overweight isn’t funny. My wife doesn’t think it’s funny. She sits sometimes wondering what life would be like if I died early. That’s not funny. Being late to meetings isn’t funny to the stressed out client waiting to talk to me about the biggest issue he has going in his life right now. Missing my goals at work isn’t funny to the bosses that absorb the lack of revenue out of their own pocket when I fall short.

I’m literally laughing my way out of the calling I’ve been given, and using humor as a means to desensitize myself to the ways in which I am sabotaging my own success in answering that calling. This isn’t hard news for me. I’m not beating myself up about it. But I’m having my eyes opened to the fact that this is serious business. There is a place for humor. But I’ve added humor to a lot of places it doesn’t belong.

Don’t worry.  I’ll probably never stop laughing about the US Congress.  And lots of other stuff in life is funny.  And humor is a gift.  Up to a certain point…  and I think I just found that point.

Thanks for reading and sharing this on Facebook or Twitter.

JDV

Photo credit: http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/us-man-faces-jail-for-laughing-too-loud/1084562/

You are alone in your sin.

You need to get a handle on this sin thing.  What’s the matter with you?  You realize don’t you that most people don’t “struggle” with this they way you do, right?  There must be something wrong with you, some wires crossed.  Whatever it is, you need to draw back into yourself and figure it out.  Put prayer on hold, would ya?  You can’t be praying in the middle of this giant mess you’re in.  And think about your wife, your family, your friends.  Listen, I’m your friend, and you have got to get a handle on this.  I know you supposedly had a “good day” yesterday but how long will that last?  You really think you can string together even five decent days in a row?  When has that worked out?

Get to work on this.  Figure it out.  You’re on your own out there until you can get this sorted out.

_____________________

Ever heard these words?  Yeah.  I have.  All the time.  This is that conversation the devil likes to have with you in order to guarantee that you never break free from sin.  Yes, the devil can actually use your own battle with sin against you.  A crafty little bastard.  Fighting him off can actually fuel his game.  Distance from God.  It’s all about distance from God.  How many times have I skipped prayer because of recent sin?  Mission accomplished, devil.  Well played.

So let’s set it straight.  If you are stuck in sin YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  But you had better get about the business of surrounding yourself with strong Christians who don’t define their faith as a means by which to judge the sins of others.  You need real Christians, not Christians who are full of crap.  You need scripture, and you had best not ever… EVER… step away from prayer.  I don’t care how much you lose your battle, you get back onto that battle field with your Christian friends and your powerful God and you fight again.

Got it?  Don’t believe the crap you hear.  Because you’re going to hear it.  Over and over.  But you’ve got an army behind you.  Want me in your army?  I can do that.  james.d.voigt@gmail.com.  And trust me on this: with me in your army you will no longer be alone in your sin!  We’ll fight it off together.

Take today and kick the living crap out of your sin.  Team up.  Pray up.  Bible up.  And start kicking.

 

We were built to be heroes.  It’s about time we start acting like heroes.

 

Photo credit: Leni Tuchsen / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A dangerous prayer.

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The Masked Rabbit wrote those three words “a dangerous prayer” in response to a post I put up about a worship song that really moves me to examine my willingness to answer my calling.  A dangerous prayer is one which you want to pray, but what if the answer is something you’d prefer not to do.

“Lord guide me to answer your calling.”

“Lord tell me if I should leave my job to follow you.”

“Lord take all of me to be used for your glory.”

These are beautiful things to pray.  But they are dangerous.  What if God guides you to give up something you’d rather not give up?  Leave a job that’s making you some serious dough?  What if the answer you’re praying for is one you’d actually pray to avoid?

I have to be honest.  I’ve avoiding saying a prayer because I wasn’t quite sure I wanted and honest answer from God.  I’ve done that a lot.  Lawyers are funny people.  The big secret at trial is that there are no secrets.  Every one knows what questions are going to be asked, and what answers will be given.  Deviations from the script are relatively rare.  This is how I pray.  I like to ask predictable questions, make predictable requests, all in anticipation that I will receive predictable responses from God.

“No need to tithe my child, pay off debt first.  And eat out a lot.”

“Stay in your job, even though it means you can’t make it to your kid’s church events on Wednesday nights.”

“Me taking all of you looks almost exactly like your life looks right now… but you might have to toss in a blog or something.”

So my prayer today is for help from God to pray those dangerous prayers.  And follow those dangerous answers.  To have some guts.  A sense of adventure.  I don’t really believe that God would wreck my life.  But any changes are kind of stressful, right?  But change is amazing!  Especially when it is sponsored by the creator of heaven and earth.

Lord, give me courage.  Courage to pray the dangerous prayers that I refuse to pray.

We were built to be heroes.  And sometimes being a hero is dangerous…

This is all about me….

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Man alive, I’ve been reading my own blog and I’m depressed!  This blog was originally started on the premise that people are far more amazing than they realize.  So I was getting about the business of reminding them of that.  But recently I’ve just been railing on and on about the mistakes that Christians make.  What happened to that tag line?  “Reminding a beaten down world that it was created to be awesome.”

Where did all that positive energy go?  I can answer that: Right to my head.  Right to my head.  You see, when I rail on about Christian failings I get comments telling me that I’m courageous, that I keep it real, etc.  I love to toss in my own confessions to really add that punch that makes for extra shares on Facebook.  Stuff like that really energizes me.

At least for a while.  Sooner or later (thankfully) I wake up.  And I just did.

Sooner or later I stop obsessing about my own blog long enough to read your blogs.  And wow.  Wow.  You are amazing people.  I buzz through your comments.  Wow.  I cannot help but to be reminded how amazing you people are.

So thank you.  Thanks for reading.  Thanks even more for your comments.  I want to let you know how much you inspire me, and by doing so encourage you to tell your stories to anyone who will listen so you can inspire them.  The road to salvation is paved with a million stories, and each story teller probably thought their story wasn’t worth telling.  But thankfully they did.  Thankfully you do.  And you inspire me every time.

So Mr. Nice Guy is back… for now.  But don’t make me stop this car and come back there!

Love you all.  Every last one.  You people change my world.  Thanks for being awesome.

We were built to be heroes.  It’s about time we started acting like heroes.

Photo credit: NuageDeNuit | Chiara Vitellozzi / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Rebooting the reboot that I rebooted last time I rebooted.

Reboot.  That thing you do when it’s all such a mess that fixing seems like a waste of time. Just turn it off and then back on again. And cross your fingers that the damn thing works when it comes back on.

I reboot myself all the time. The solution to whatever it is that is wrong with me is to just “start fresh.”  Yeah.  Well what would you say to a guy who had rebooted every few days and his computer was still broken?  You’d tell him that rebooting ain’t getting it done. Right?

Well I can tell you… rebooting ain’t getting it done. There is no overhaul that suddenly makes doing the things I know I need to be doing any easier. There are no two buttons I can hold down for five seconds that suddenly restart me and make stopping the things I should not be doing any easier.

There is no blue pill. There is no red pill. There is just today. And I’m actually not “behind schedule”  on anything. There is no need to play catch up. I am where I am today and I have one day to take this body of mine and do something with it.

I can’t do twice as much tomorrow to make up for wasting today.  So today I pick this body up with everything that’s wrong with it and I do something amazing with it. I heal it. Or to be more accurate I stop damaging it and watch it heal itself by the grace of the one who created it.

I don’t think I can do that everyday. But today is not everyday. Today is today. I can make use of it or I can waste it. God gives me that choice, which I hate sometimes. Oh to be a mindless drone from time to time.

Off I go. Taking care of the first gift I was ever given. No line on the sand. No “this is serious this time.”  Just me using the only day I currently have in my possession to honor the first gift I ever got.

We were built to be heroes. It’s about time we started acting like heroes.

Why I don’t debate anymore, either.

Steve Rhode / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

If you read my blog regularly, you know that I was challenged by a good friend many months ago to stop posting about politics on Facebook.  My life has been better since.  I recently read a blog post by Don Merrit about debate among pastors on doctrinal issues, and why the author no longer debates.  His post is about winning a debate, with disastrous fallout afterward.  A bitter victory.  Then a couple of weeks ago I posted one of my most popular posts in this blog’s history in which I opined that the opinions of the Duck Dynasty cast on homosexuality don’t really matter.  And I topped it all off with a Facebook share of an article that argued that the creeds don’t really matter either.

I feel like I’m bouncing around the same topic in a very haphazard way so I want to clarify my thoughts here.  I think doctrine is important.  I think the creeds are important.  I think the question of whether homosexuality is a sin is important.  But these questions are not part of the process of making disciples.  My blog is permeated with one single thought over and over again. God gave you one tool to make disciples:  Your witness.  That’s all you need.  And it’s all that the people around you need.  I may get myself in trouble here, but I’m going to say that your witness is a more powerful tool to make disciples than the Bible itself.  I’m not kidding.  If you had one chance to make a disciple of a person, and you had to choose between a Bible and your witness I’d go with your witness every time.  They can get a Bible anywhere.  They can only get your witness from you.  And your witness might be just the motivation they need to seek out and starting reading a Bible.

Why not lead with some doctrine?  Why not lead by debating whether homosexuality is a sin?  Why not pass out Bibles on a street corner?  Because to me, and to Jesus, the process of making disciples is about forming relationships.  He didn’t walk up to the fishermen and tell them what their sins were.  He didn’t hand them the scriptures.  He didn’t recite Mosaic law.  He walked up to the fishermen and said, “Follow me.”  He spent all of his time with them.  He spent YEARS with them.

The people who responded harshly to me said things like, “But the question of whether homosexuality is a sin is important.”  Sure it is.  Once you’ve accepted Christ and you have decided to abandon your life to him, that’s an important question.  Especially if you are gay.  But is it an important question the first time you meet someone?

The creeds are also important.  But they are not a gatekeeping device.  They are a discipline building device.  I would reject the argument that you cannot become a follower of Christ without reciting a creed.  But I would agree that you can develop into a more mature follower of Christ by doing so.  Just like I reject the premise that you cannot become a disciple without reading the Bible.  But once you are, you had better get about the business of knowing it cover to cover.

The problem with the way we make disciples is that we pile up every life experience we had that got us to where we are over the course of many decades and then thrust that on people as an expectation for them to achieve in a matter of minutes.  If they do not… well at least we tried.  But you didn’t try.  You shoved them up against the finish line and shouted, “Cross that line sinner!” and then told them you would pray for them when they had absolutely no idea what you were talking about and walked away.

Here’s the way.  You meet them at the starting line.  Their starting line.  Wherever that is.  And you become a part of their lives.  You let them see how you live.  You tell them stories about your witness.  You let them see you are human.  You let them see that you are not the gatekeeper of their salvation, and that the miracle is that the gatekeeper leaves the gate wide open for anyone to walk through.  You make them a disciple by showing them that you are a disciple and giving them a life vision that is not only appealing, but attainable.  You’re not on any pedestal and they don’t need to be either.

At some point the questions will come.  At some point there may be a sin in their lives that, as a loving brother or sister, you need to call out.  That is where creeds will help.  That is where Bible study will help.  That is where an eye-to-eye conversation about homosexuality will help.  Followed by a hug.  And a conversation.  All night.  And for months afterward.  There is no “drive by” option for making disciples.

Stop showing up at the finish line and gasping at all the sinners that won’t cross it after eight minutes of your professional level disciple making.  Think about where you started and how long it took you to get where you are today, and how far you still are from being “done”.  Give these poor people you’re talking to the same opportunity to experience the PROCESS of discipleship and not the EVENT you want it to be.  The time it takes to make a disciple is not measured on your watch.  It’s measured on a calendar.  So saddle up.  This is going to take a while.

 

We were built to be heroes.  It’s about time we started acting like heroes.

I had this backwards all these years.

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I’ve been trying for decades to get the big things in my life all fixed up an in perfect alignment with God. And I’m blowing it… big time.

It has occurred to me that I will never get the big things right while I’m ignoring all the little things. My perspective on getting the big things right puts me right in the center of my own success. “Look at these big things I have figured out! I am now suitable for a relationship with God and I will look fabulous to the world when that happens.”

Nothing that comes through God glorifies man. It always glorifies God. David was not a hero. When he beat Goliath, the enemy bowed down and worshipped God, not David. What do we know about David? He did all the little things right. The small daily disciplines like prayer and worship. As a result, his relationship with God grew. And THEN he was able to do something amazing.

Yes, I am built to be amazing. That’s the whole point of this blog. But “amazing” doesn’t come FROM me, it comes THROUGH me. And I need to let God in for that to happen. And I cannot let God in by doing three or four big “Christian” things a year. I need to do small things everyday to build my relationship with God. Closer and closer and closer until someday I just might be called to take down a giant. But I can’t sit around working my own agenda and expect that I’ll get that call. I need to be saddled up right next to God every day so my relationship can build and I can be subject to His will, ready to act, and PREPARED to act, when called upon for something big.

We were built to be heroes. It’s about time we started acting like heroes.

Photo credit: lukemontague / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

This is going to get messy.

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Why do I have such a hard time with obedience to God? Why do I have such a hard time with prayer? The answer is simpler than you might think. I’m pretty happy with my life the way it is right now. I know that stricter obedience to God, and spending more time in prayer with God, will bring me closer to Him. And I know that it could get messy.

One of my readers used the term “messy abandonment” in a comment. And even though I don’t yet describe myself as obedient to God, and I don’t do a good job of staying in constant prayer, I can see that things will get messy as I continue to grow in that direction. All of the little pieces I have lined up on the shelf will be knocked around, and out of order. I’m getting closer to where I’m okay with that. I’ve actually been praying lately for the willingness to become closer to God, to have a more open heart to obey Him, and a more mindful heart to stay in constant prayer.

And I think it’s making a difference in me. I think I can feel that relationship getting closer. It’s crazy if you think about it. The creator of everything sits there with His arms open waiting for me. For me. How crazy is that? I can barely get my head around it. In reality, I should be begging for the opportunity to kneel at His feet. Instead He just waits for me to come to Him. And when I do, He welcomes me with open arms.

Raised by a woman to taught me to earn everything I ever get, this is tough to figure out. But I’m figuring it out. Slowly. And I can see that it’s gonna get messy.

We were built to be heroes. And heroes get messy when they have to.

Photo credit: Aleksi Aaltonen / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND