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Joel Engle Talks about True Faith in Chapel

February 14, 2011

Joel Engle has several reasons he likes the historic Christian author C.S. Lewis, he told OBU students during a weekly chapel service Monday, Feb. 14. For one thing, he and Lewis both endured severe trauma in their childhoods. They also both have sought answers to life's difficult questions.

Returning to his alma mater, Engle's topic was on "Faith," following this year's chapel theme, "Unadorned: A Return to the Simplicity of the Gospel." The theme is based on the book "Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis. The message was part of OBU's annual "Focus Week," which is dedicated to helping members of the OBU community strengthen relationships with the theme, "Building Strong Relationships through Faith, Hope, Love and Forgiveness."

C.S. Lewis' mother died from cancer when he was still a young boy. He became a boarding school student, but due to severe respiratory ailments, was sent to England, which caused him culture shock. At age 15, he declared he was an atheist. He went to University College, Oxford, but enlisted in the British Army after the outbreak of World War I, in which he was wounded. He had become close friends with an army roommate who was killed in battle. He taught at Oxford for 29 years, during which time he came to a personal faith in Jesus Christ. He married late in life, at age 58. After a battle with bone cancer, his bride died four years later.

A 1990 OBU graduate, Engle is pastor of The Exchange church in Keller, Texas, and a worship and recording artist. Born in San Francisco, Calif., he never knew his father. At age 11, he found his mother face down in the kitchen; she had suffered a stroke and died a few days later. He was sent to live in Wetumka, Okla., which caused him culture shock. Despite attending Falls Creek and other "religious" experiences, he said he felt despair. He said he had major questions about his faith, such as why God would take his mother away. His grandfather died, his grandmother no longer could care for him, and he was moved to the Baptist Children's Home. He was adopted by the Engle family in Garber, Okla. About a year ago, his best friend from OBU died.

"I can relate to the pain C.S. Lewis experienced," Engle said. "But what I also like about C.S. Lewis, and something I relate to, is that C.S. Lewis never shied away from asking the tough questions. ... He not only asked the questions, but he sought the answers with intellectual honesty and a humble heart, which I think should always be connected."

Despite all the questions -- such as "Where is God?" and "Why does God allow bad things to happen?" -- Engle said he and Lewis share a passionate love of Jesus Christ. Faith, Lewis said, is "the change from being confident about our own efforts to the state in which we despair of doing anything for ourselves and leave it to God."

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Engle said it was his freshman year at OBU when he experienced the "watershed moment" of his life during a chapel message focused on Luke 9:23, in which Jesus says, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me." From that time forward, he attempted to be a "perfect" Christian -- to read his Bible daily, to pray and to seek counsel. He said it was because he did not understand true faith that he became cynical and did not think Christian faith "worked." He had to come to the point of understanding that in one's own strength, the Christian life is not hard -- it is impossible.

"Faith is not about you doing things for God, it is about God doing things through you," Engle said.

Engle said Galatians 2:19-20 is like a password that opens the Christian life for a follower of Jesus Christ. The Scripture reads, "I have been crucified with Christ; and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."

"You have to allow God to live his life through you -- that is the Christian experience," Engle said. "The only way we get to that point is coming to the very end of our self-sufficiency, and that is very hard for most of us. So if you feel like you are a total failure in the Christian life and you just can't do it, you may be closer to understanding real faith than ever before."

Engle said the way to find real faith is to seek God without pretext -- to believe Jesus Christ truly came to wash away each person's sin and to bring God's infinite love and mercy.

"You who feel so desperate, so alone: God has come to give you purpose, to redeem you," he said. "And if you know Christ, your sins have been forgiven to the extent of infinity. That's what Christianity is. That's what C.S. Lewis was talking about in 'Mere Christianity.'

"It's not as complex as we try to make it to be, and yet it is so vast, it is hard to imagine. It's a beautiful divine paradox."

Engle encouraged Christians to give up trying so hard to be perfect and to ask God, "Live your life through me." He said Christians will still make mistakes and life will always be difficult, but God changes people degree by degree, and his love is infinite.