Over the last 2 years, God has blessed my community with the most excellent leaders. Here’s a personal letter of thanks, and a story transformation, to one of them.
Dear Eric Knopf,
I remember on the first day of our preach and teach class, you explained to us that the ultimate purpose of teaching, is to bring transformation. Immediately, that statement stirred a question inside of me: When does a preacher ever get to witness the accomplishments of their goal purpose? Sure, you might hear about revelations after a sermon, or job promotional breakthroughs in a facebook post.
But transformation? That’s less glamorous, harder to articulate, and consequently, far less broadcasted. In my own experience, transformation occurs first internally, far before the seeds of teaching take root and bear fruit into a larger external reality. It happens behind the scenes, inside the heart and mind—almost on a cellular level of the soul—before then affecting the hundreds of tiny decisions and actions which influence the course of our lives, and those around us.
Then, right in the middle of our class, it dawned on me. In the context of your intended purpose, the majority of the fruits of your labor, are invisible! Most occupational endeavors, or passion projects, don’t work this way. For example, when a veterinarian neuters a cat, they can see tangible proof that the “proper pruning” has taken place, and rest assured knowing the cat will never do something stupid like run away to find a mate. But a preacher just doesn’t receive that same type of immediate gratification or rest assurance. So Merry Christmas, here’s a story about behind the scenes transformation….
Memory Lane Moments
Every year in December, I take some time to look back and reflect on the last 12 months. Shuffling through journal memories like a card deck, I reminisce over event highlights and ponder over any potential character changes. This year something unusual happened. When I looked back at the journal entries of last year, I could hardly recognize myself inside the lines of my archaic thought process. Indeed, sometimes I get so caught up in racing ever forward, that I forget to acknowledge the distance already covered, and more importantly—those who walked with me on the journey.
Quarter Life Back Story
To offer some background, in the months leading up to my discovery of the Epic Life community (spring 2015), I rode a train headed straight for a land of deception and disaster. Of course, I didn’t recognize it at the time, but now, looking back almost makes me cringe. Without the right environment and mentorship throughout those critical quarter-life years—my natural personality trait combination of intellect, innocence, and curiosity, could have easily led me down a harmful, (and much less than epic) of a life path. In fact, it was already starting to. See at one point…
- I was intellectual enough to read Tim Keller or CS Lewis for fun, but too doctrinally insecure to face questions without riding an emotional roller coaster of “crisis Christianity.” Some people told me to stop thinking so much. Others suggested that God had me in a “natural spiritual wilderness.:
- I was naive enough to stay rather oblivious to the existence of evil in the world, yet sensitive enough to feel bogged down by its weight. Thus I often lived as a victim, unequipped and frequently blindsided by life. Also, I had a habit of picking myself up with songs containing very theologically debatable lyrics.
- Lastly, I was curious enough to gravitate towards controversy, although not always discerning enough to know when to flee. For example, if a guy were to tell me that the whole of waiting until marriage concept was actually a common Biblical mistranslation of the phrase sexual immorality, my response would be something like “really? So tell me more about your theory.” I know your eyes just rolled back into their sockets while reading that, but no worries, cross references before conspiracy theories!
Who are These People?
Thankfully, I immersed myself in the Epic Life community at the perfect time, and the potential spiritual wilderness train wreck never occurred. The cool thing is, I didn’t have to undergo some huge personality makeover, I just became really curious about better things. Such as:
- The undeniable fruit in the lives of the people on leadership.
- The authentic and fun friendships, which seemed to defy all existing stereotypes of post -collegiate social life death.
- And of course, God’s truth—which was now being unveiled more clearly than ever before in your sermons.
Gratitude Induced Insomnia
It was actually a slight problem at one point because so many light bulbs of revelation came on at once that I had trouble sleeping. I didn’t mind, though. The occasional onset of gratitude induced insomnia seemed a small price to pay for more truth and freedom. I no longer lived terrified of making “salvation deal breaking” mistakes, or googling my way to confirmation bias and confusion. When I didn’t understand something, I simply told siri “remind me to ask Eric Knopf about x,y,z, later” You have a unique ability to explain complex concepts in simple understandable ways, while still conveying the depth and context of scripture. It’s informative and instructive without being cliche or condescending. As my doctrinal haze began to clear up I found myself tolerating, and then even welcoming, discussions with people of many different denominations and other walks of faith.
Unsurprisingly, the more I learned the truth about God’s character, the more I learned about my own identity as well. Long before I started coming to Epic Life, I knew God was calling me to share my writing with other people. However, I had no plans of actually doing anything about it in the near future. Paralyzed with lies about incompetence, I refused to share a word. For a short time, I really did think I could get away with ignoring that one calling—maybe try listening to God in some other areas—and continue along as a slightly disengaged observer of life. But as it turned out, that wasn’t an option.
First of all, the prayer team kept bringing up “having a voice,” or “writing for others,”at what I considered to be very irrelevant times. Since I didn’t have much previous exposure to the prophetic, I used to respond by saying things like, “hey nice prayer. But just wondering, have you been talking to other people? Like about my secrets?” I know. I can’t believe I blamed the prayer team for gossip either. Gradually my heart softened, and my mind opened. Finally, last December 2015, when you challenged us to reach 1000 acts of kindness, I reached a tipping point and thought, why not join in? I mean, everyone’s doing it, and I’ve always wanted to start a blog anyway. By the time the kindness challenge officially ended, I no longer required permission to walk in obedience and keep going.
“Vulnerability Hangovers” and Holding Back
Later, in April, when I stepped on stage for the first time to share a testimony with the community, an internal barrier shattered. It’s been a year of much blogging, breakthrough, and discovery, ever since. I will admit, it has not always been easy. In honesty, sometimes the new concept of vulnerability felt so terrifying that I thought I might throw up on multiple occasions. However, when my “alive meter” kept skyrocketing, and my inbox flooded with responses from encouraged listeners and blog readers, I realized that holding back would always be the scarier life choice.
Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like right now had I continued along the same trek of seeking out quaint churches and trying not to be too curious. It’s not like I was in danger of joining a gang or selling drugs, but there are other kinds of character tragedies. Most likely, I’d just be a “pretty nice” person with a couple of secrets and a lot of unused potential. While that’s not even close to the will of God, at most other churches, I could have easily gotten away with that lifestyle. But of course, I am so glad I didn’t!
Full Circle Unfoldings
Last year when I sent you and Camille that long Christmas card letter, I remember ending with a line like this: “I have a feeling, or perhaps it’s a Holy Spirit intuition, that this is just the beginning.” Oddly, I wrote that note before joining leadership, and before the spontaneous post service Q and A, and before ever taking part in princess stories and park strolls with Scarlett and Maverick. And yet, it must be a (mind of) God thing, because I just knew there was, and still is, much more to come. That being said, I had no idea how the unfolding would play out so delightfully in reality.
I never could have imagined that 6 months later I’d be swinging from jungle vines at the Green Papaya in Costa Rica while discussing the gospel of Mark among friends and fish tacos. Or, that I would spend the early mornings of my family vacation devouring the pre-published edition of “The Will of God,” while discussing Theology (without stress) across from my brother as he worked on his own Theology essays. Also, I definitely never thought I’d end up in a living room full of people eager to learn how to teach, during the rainy Monday nights of October.
Speaking of, it was during that class, that I gained an even greater awareness and respect for the work you put in, in order to deliver quality sermons week in and week out. Even though you deem your message content as mere leftover “bread crumbs,” giving away good crumb’s requires a diligent kneading of one’s own daily bread. It’s a privilege to take part in a community where the leaders freely dust everyone with such high nutrient density breadcrumbs. Seriously, thank you so much for all that you do to positively influence so many of our lives. I am forever grateful to have been a part of this ministry.
2016 was quite a year, but now I am even more excited for what’s to come!
Love, blessings, and declarations of favor.