Joel Engle – Liberty University Convocation


Well how cool is this, to be in the round?
Man, you guys okay over there? Okay…oh too late! You guys okay over here? Now I know
you folks, how are you guys doing? And you guys? You’re doing really good! “I drank seventy-five
Red Bulls!” And you guys? And then, for you guys. It’s okay, it’s okay; the Lord will
get you through it. Well, I can tell you this, I’ve done a lot of praying, and our church
back in Anchorage, Alaska — yeah represent 907, yo! I try to stay relevant for the young
people, so don’t be fronting on me. Our church in Alaska, Changepoint Church, has been praying
for you. Has been praying for you, because, without question, when I am sitting in this
room and we’re singing the Gospel of Jesus Christ together, 15,000 strong, all I can
think of is, “Lord, maybe you’re going to answer the prayer I prayed when I was 18 years
old, as a college student, that you’d bring revival to the United States of America.”
And I look here and I go, “There’s something happening at Liberty that’s extraordinary.”
And God only does extraordinary things, maybe not sensational, but extraordinary. I never
knew my dad. If my dad were to walk down and to sit right there, I’d have no idea, I’ve
never seen a picture of my dad. My dad looked at my mom when I was one month old and said,
“I cannot handle the responsibility of being a father,” and he left. I was born in San
Francisco, California — 415, represent. Like, what is that? It’s the area code there.
Don’t worry about it — and went to a Catholic school. My mom raised me. As a single mom,
she went to work every day from nine to five, came home, and my grandparents lived in Oklahoma
— all right, 405, represent. I’ll have to go through every zip code or every, every
area code. And, every summer I would leave California and I’d visit my grandparents in
Oklahoma. And it was the summer when I was eleven years old, had a great summer, visited
my grandparents, and my mom actually came out for the last week of my vacation out there,
and then my mom and I flew back to San Francisco at the end of our time. And I went to bed
— and every night that I went to bed as a kid, my mom stood over my bed and said “Joel,
I love you more and more every day.” I was like “Thanks, mom.” And she’d walk out and
I’d go to sleep. And I remember I woke up the next morning at 7:27, and…I walk out
of my bedroom. I took a left down our hallway, I took a right into our kitchen, and as I
walked into the kitchen, I saw my mom lying facedown on the kitchen floor. And she was
breathing out of her nose…and her legs were moving in a spasmodic way; it was wrong. I
was filled with terror, and I called the ambulance, and as I was waiting for the ambulance I remember
opening up the bay window of our apartment and I began to yell for help and I remember
seeing a guy getting into his vehicle and he looked at me and I’m screaming “Please,
come help me! Please, my mom’s laying, something’s wrong!” and he looks at his watch, he looks
at me, and he gets in his car and drives off. So the ambulance came. They took my mom to
the children’s hospital a few blocks from where we lived. And four hours later I was
in a waiting room, and the chief neurologist of children’s hospital came in, and he said
“Joel, I hate to tell you this but your mom has suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage,
a massive stroke. They called my grandparents; my grandparents flew out that night from Oklahoma
to San Francisco, and we waited. For four days, we prayed, and my heart, my heart was
sinking. On a Sunday I got a phone call that we need to go to the hospital, and so we go
to the hospital, and I remember coming out of the elevator and I walked down the opaque
white hallway of the hospital, and there was a plate glass window to the left where my
mom was in a hospital bed, filled with all of these tubes trying to keep her alive, and
I go into another room across the way and a younger doctor took me aside, and he said
“Joel, your mom has thirty minutes to live.” I said, “Is there any hope?” He goes “Joel
I’m sorry. There’s nothing we can do.” I remember as I was walking out, out of, the hospital
— I was eleven years old — I remember being so overwhelmed with grief that I lost
control of my legs, and I remember weeping, and I would go back to the apartment, and
we get the call that my mother had died, first words out of my mouth, were these words: “God,
I hate you! You killed my mom.” Now that may sound pretty severe when you hear that, but
one of the things I’ve come to know about the Lord and about His grace is that God’s
grace meets us exactly where we are. Psalm 34:18 says this: “The Lord is close to the
brokenhearted, and He saves those who are crushed in Spirit.” Now I didn’t feel very
close to the Lord that day, at all, but the Lord was there. He was watching. He was doing
His divine maneuvering; I just had no idea. And so, after my mom’s death, we sold most
of our possessions, and I moved from San Francisco, California, to live with my grandparents in
Wetumka, Oklahoma. Culture shock. It’s like the “Beverly Hillbillies” in reverse.
It’s like, I went from, like, the ocean and the beach, to like, dirt. And I did not fit
in in Wetumka, Oklahoma, let me just tell you that. I did not fit in at all, and there’s
an old — there’s an old evangelist that made this joke — and I’m going to repurpose
it for our generations because it just needs to keep going. But I had a drug problem: I
was drug to church. My grandparents—yeah, go ahead and clap for that one; that was awesome.
I see David Nasser writing that down right now. He’s like “That is just gold, baby, gold!”
— I was though because my grandma and grandpa said “You’re going to church” and they went
to First Baptist Church, and I thought it was called Forced Baptist Church ‘cause
they forced me to go to the Baptist Church. And — yeah write that one down too. Young
speakers, gold. — And I hated going to church, I hated it, ‘cause, well, in California
I didn’t go to church, I went to Catholic school every day. That was like, that made
up for my whole life, you know, and they sang these, these — I mean we didn’t have any
of this when I was a kid — this is like, you know, Coldplay got saved and moved to
Lynchburg. “We love Jesus!” You know like “Yeah!’ you know. Not the church I grew up
in. Man, they had an organist, and a pianist, and they sing hymns and these hymns were in
these books that were in the back of these pews. They didn’t have, even have, nice chairs.
They had these wooden pews — benches — and they’d get up, and this guy with a coat and
a combover would you know, was like, doing this. “Let’s sing together,” you know, and
they’d sing these really obscure songs. One song they’d sing was called “Bringing in the
Sheaves.” “Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves, we shall come rejoicing, bringing
in the sheaves.” I’m like, “What are the sheaves?” It sounds like some kind of intestinal disorder.
“Oh man, I got the sheaves, doctor.” “Quick, get the hazmat suits! He’s got the sheaves!”
“Oh no!’ “Oh…” And here’s the other thing, they’re bringing the sheaves into the church!
What kind of crazy people would do that? So I just didn’t get it, and the pastor man,
was just, you know I went to a hard-core Baptist church, and when you’re a kid you don’t really,
you don’t really connect with the preaching or teaching. I just kind of like Charlie Brown,
you know, remember Charlie Brown, the classroom? “Wa-wa-wa-wa…” You know, except this was
a Southern Baptist, on fire, Southern Fried Baptist church. Yeah, we’re talking some serious
gravy going on in that church. And he was like “Wa-wa-wa…” And I’m like “Wow.” So
my friend goes “Hey, listen man, you want to go to church camp? It’s like a whole week
of church.” I’m like “Are you insane? I’ll get the sheaves, man! I’m not going to that.
You gotta be crazy!” He goes, “No listen man, this place is called Falls Creek, and it’s
the largest church camp in the world.” He goes “Listen, there’s like five thousand people
that go there, and four thousand of ‘em are girls.” I’m like, “Blessed be the name
of the Lord! You give and take away — give me your number baby — you give and take
away!” you know. And so I go there, and I’m the project kid in our youth group. In other
words, I’m the one kid that’s obviously not a Christian, and so I became the target of
the Baptist youth group, and you gotta love it though they’re — I mean they were —they
were after me. And I remember one time we’re sitting at the — there was a — softball
game and this girl sits next to me, she goes, “Are you saved?” I’m like “What?” I never
even heard that word. “Are you saved?” And I’m like, I kept thinking, “Well, I remember
when I was a kid and I jumped in this swimming pool and I couldn’t swim” — I don’t recommend
doing that, if you don’t know how to swim — “and I was drowning, and this Swedish
guy jumped in and saved me.” So yes, I am saved. “I’m saved.” And she’s like, “Okay,
let me ask you a question.” “Okay, alright.” “If” — we’re playing softball — “if the
ball hits you in the head, and you died —” We’re playing slow-pitch softball here. You know
what I mean — “And you died, where would you go? Where would you go?” And I’m like,
I didn’t have very good theology so I’m just like, “First base?” It would be the logical
step ‘cause you would. And so I remember the Thursday night at camp was the night everybody
was supposed to get saved, right? And they had a — I’m just going to keep working with
that, keep rolling — And they had the, they had the pastor. The pastor was going for it.
He was just like “blah-blah-blah-blah-blah.” And my buddy elbows me. It’s time for the
invitation where everybody comes forward I was like, “I will never ever do that, man,
you kidding? I’m not going in front of all those people.” And he goes “Man, you, I gotta
tell you something, Joel.” I’m like, “What?” he goes, “Man, I’m not kidding you. He goes
“Man, you’re going to die and go to hell.” I’ve been with you all week long, I’m like,
“Thanks! I appreciate that. Thank you for your belief in me.” Obviously I’ve made a
great impression. And so they start playing a song, and I see all these girls going down
to the front, and they’re hugging each other. I’m like “You know what, I need to get saved.”
It’s a true story, man. So I walked down. They’re singing “Wherever He leads, I’ll go,”
and I’m walking down the aisle like you know, and these two girls are crying and I’m like,
you know, “Can I pray for you?” “Get away!” “Okay! It’s cool.” And this big old pastor
with a belt buckle the size of West Virginia, walks up to me and goes, “Son, come with me.”
I’m like “I’m so dead, I’m so busted man.” And I go in this room and he asks me a question,
he goes — we’re sitting in these two chairs — he goes, “You want to go to heaven, or
hell?” Now they say there’s no such thing as a stupid question, but come on. “No I want
to go down there, and burn. Can we? Can I get on the fast track for there?” No, I was
like, I want to go to heaven, duh. So I prayed the prayer, but here’s the problem, and you
know what, this is the thing as a pastor that concerns me the most, for you here at Liberty.
And I, I’m dead serious, is that day I walked down the aisle, and I walked past the cross
of Jesus Christ, but I walked into religion. And I learned how to, to function, with the
lingo, and everything else, go through the motions of Christianity, without ever having
a real encounter with Jesus Christ. And that is my great fear, for Liberty, and for you,
and it’s not just a fear; it’s the fact that I care about you. You see, one of the things,
that has to happen is there has to be a breaking of the heart, to come to know Christ. That’s
why the Bible says that God is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed
in Spirit. And so I went in to church and I got involved in music, everybody always
used to ask me “Joel, how did you get involved in music?” I was like, “Two words: Lisa Fields.”
She was in twelfth grade, I was in seventh but I thought I had a chance. I’m not going
to lie: I was cocky. And — never worked out. And I began to sing in church. First
time I ever sang in church, I was in eighth grade, and they just were on me to sing a
solo, and I sang this song called “Praise the Lord” which is an old school, like Imperials
song, and it has a real high note like “Praise the Lord!” You know, and I’m like “I can’t
believe I hit this note!” “He can work through those who praise Him, praise the Lord!” and
the whole place is like — and I get done, and they clap, and they give me a standing
ovation in the church, this church couldn’t even say “Amen.” They were just like, “Mmm,”
you know. And I’m like, “I found my, I found my identity, man.” So I got into music and
I started going to these contests and started, you know, actually winning them. Now singing
all these Italian songs: “Gonza, gonza, fan chu la,” you know. And, poor music majors,
man. The 24 Italian arias. Yeah. If you’re not a music major, you don’t know what kind
of pain. I have a dream — that I will never have to use that again, ‘cause…And so
I went to these things, and I became, I became the guy who had the singing talent. And I
began to lead worship at my church all the time. Something wasn’t right. When I was fourteen
years old, my grandpa was the only father figure I ever had, dies of a heart attack,
I actually watched him die. My grandma’s health deteriorated to the point where she could
no longer care for me. So, I moved from Wetumka, Oklahoma to live in the Baptist Children’s
home, in Oklahoma city. I lived there for about a year and a half. And, it was hard.
I felt completely alone. I mean, talk about brokenhearted and crushed in spirit; that
was me. And I used music and my ability to navigate in the Christian community as a means
to find significance. Some people want to try to find significance in drugs, or, you
know, partying or football, basketball, baseball. For me, it was in the church. But there was
something missing, in my heart, in my life. And it was a real relationship with Christ.
And so God was at work in my life, though, and when I was 16 years of age, the Engle
family adopted me, and I moved from Oklahoma City, to Garber, Oklahoma. I’m sure many of
you guys have been to Garber on vacation with your families. Literally, I mean Garber, like,
is just a little tiny farming community, but isn’t it interesting that in a little farming
community seemingly insignificant, that God had a massive plan for my life. And so, Mom
and Dad Engle took me in, and I played basketball in high school. Obviously I’m an athlete,
you can tell, look. That’s not funny. Okay, okay, well all natural, never took steroids,
obviously. Never worked out, obviously. And I played basketball in high school, and about
the second day, I got into an altercation with one of my teammates in the locker room.
I’ll just leave it at that. And I won. But he was a tough sixth grader, let me tell you.
But I looked, let’s just say this, when I got home I looked like I had been in a fight,
OK? And I walk in and everybody goes “What’s wrong?” I’m like “Leave me alone!” I go into
my room; I slam the door, and my Mom Engle walks into my room, and let me just tell you
something about Mom Engle. I hope…I don’t know if you’ll ever get to meet her or not,
but oh, she is one of the strongest Christian women you will ever meet in your life. And
she goes “Young man, you don’t ever act like that in our house.” And I’m like, “Okay,”
‘cause I’m not going to dare talk back to her, man, nuh-uh. And she said “Joel, what’s
wrong?” and I told her what happened. I said, “This is what happened. I know what you’re
going to do; you’re going to send me back to the Children’s Home, and I’d just as
soon go back there anyway. I don’t care about you. I don’t care about living here,” which
was a lie. And she said this to me that changed my life, she said, “Joel, no matter how bad
you are or how good you are, you will always have a home here with us.” And I was, that
was where God’s grace met me, right in my time of need, right when I wanted to reject
the Engles, right when I wanted to give up on life. The Lord Jesus Christ was speaking
through Mom Engle to me and saying, “My grace will meet you right where you are.” And I
tried to fight with God, for over a month, and I remember sitting in the back row of
First Baptist Church in Garber, Oklahoma. On Friend’s Day they had like eighty people,
it was a small, small church, and the pastor was preaching, and he preached Romans 5:8,
that God demonstrated His love towards us in this, that while we were yet sinners Christ
died for the ungodly. And it was that moment when I realized even though I had gone down
the aisle, even though I had been baptized, even though I had memorized Scripture, even
though I sang Christian songs, I did not have the absolute security that Christ lived in
my heart. And then I began to think “Well, everybody that I know, everybody that I love,
has left me. What’s wrong with me? How could anybody love me?” And the love of God broke
into my heart and said “Joel, I love you. I want to rescue you.” And it was there in
that moment that I laid down my life, and I asked Jesus Christ to come into my life,
and be the Lord of my life. And He changed my life. And I haven’t gotten over it yet,
and I never, ever will. And I want to tell you something: God’s not so much concerned
about the condition of your life right now, as much as He is concerned with the trajectory
of you life. You see, there is so much talent, so many gifts in this room, but remember this:
that God is close to the brokenhearted; He saves those who are crushed in spirit. For
some, you are a Christian, but it’s been so long since your heart was tender towards the
things of God. For some, you have no idea if you know Christ or not but I’m here to
tell you something, regardless of where you are, regardless of your present condition,
the grace of Jesus Christ will meet you where you are. I look back at my life, and I traveled
all over the world, singing songs that God gave to me, hearing my songs on the radio
— bizarre — being able to plant a church, and then God picks me and moves me to Alaska,
and right now, our church at Changepoint in Anchorage, you know, there’s three thousand
people that come to this church every Sunday, and I want to tell you something, we’re beginning
to experience revival. How could God use someone from Garber, Oklahoma? I’ll tell you how:
when you lay your life down at the feet of Jesus Christ, when you say “Lord, I want my
heart to be broken for your kingdom, I want my heart to be soft for your Holy Spirit,
I want to be in your presence.” Do not underestimate what God can do through your life. And I can’t
imagine what God could do here, at Liberty, if we just said “Lord, here I am. I surrender
my life to you.” That’s my prayer to you. My prayer is that you will continue to experience
the love of God, the grace of God, and that you’ll allow the power of the living Christ
to flow through you, to touch the lives of other people. It’s been my great privilege
to speak to you today. God bless you, Liberty.

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