Growing in Faith
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Author Jonathan “JP” Pokluda remembers his growth to adulthood and the many mistakes he made along the way. After chasing the American Dream, Pokluda tells how he found the key to real purpose and joy.
Growing in Faith
Bob: As a young adult, JP Pokluda got invited to church; and then from there, got invited to a small group meeting. He said, for him, it was like walking into a completely different universe.
JP: These people were so different; you know? They had never partied like us. They were never lost in the world, like we were. They were raised in the church; they knew God’s Word.
I can remember sitting with them; and I would ask a question—and like about materialism. They’d say, “Well, hey, turn to Luke 18.” I’m like: “How do you know what’s in Luke 18?! What?! Do you guys know what’s in this book? Are you serious?”—like, “Who knows what’s in the Bible?” They were like: “Yes; we read it. We study it. We apply it to our lives.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, February 10th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Getting his spiritual house in order was one of the first steps JP Pokluda took on his path to growing up and becoming a real adult. He’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’m guessing there are going to be a lot of moms and dads, who are listening, who are going to be going: “Yes, yes! You tell them! That’s right! Say it again,” because we’re going to be talking about the emerging generation and their need to kind of step into adulthood; right?
Dave: Yes; I’m looking forward to it. I want to tell my kids, “Tune in.” [Laughter]I know they are
30 years old; but I’m still like, “I mean, this is a great, great topic.”
Ann: I think parents will be sharing this with a lot of their kids.
Bob: Yes; JP Pokluda joins us on FamilyLife Today. JP, welcome.
JP: Hey; thanks for having me. That’s why I’m here—bad cop. Good cop/bad cop—I’ll be the bad cop. [Laughter]
Dave: And that might be the deepest voice that I’ve heard in this studio; that’s awesome.
Ann: —and tallest person.
Bob: When your voice changed in high school—
JP: I’m still waiting for it to change, actually. [Laughter] This is how it sounded out of the womb.
Bob: JP is a pastor in Waco, Texas. Harris Creek is the church where he pastors. He is married; father of three kids.
JP: That’s right.
Bob: You’ve worked with young people/with young singles through a ministry called The Porch that was a part of Watermark and is, now, in churches all across the country. What are your observations about this generation?
JP: I’ve watched tens of thousands of the lives of young adults. Just so much of ministry is pattern recognition—like you’re just seeing people make choices; and you get to see which of those choices turn out well and which of them don’t turn out well. Then that just gives credibility to God’s Word; because then you start to see: “Oh, when they go and live according to God’s Word, it leads to life. When they don’t, it leads to death.”
I just started writing down some of those patterns, Bob. Over time, it became a book; or at least, I had ten chapters there. I was like, “Okay; there/here’s something that I think would be helpful.” That was the big heart behind writing Welcome to Adulting—is just: “Hey; I want to create a resource that would be helpful to young people transition to adulthood.”
Dave: It sounds like there must be a real need of young adults—and maybe, it’s not just young adults—needing to know how to grow up. Is that what you found out?—it’s like: “That’s what adulting is.” What in the world would draw that many people to what you’re having to say?
JP: Well, we have the best news in town; you know? Not to be cliché or trite, but I’m telling people how they can live forever. It was interesting; because everyone was saying: “Hey, the Millennials are leaving the church in droves.
Dave: Yes; right.
JP: “Young adults don’t want church.” That just was not our experience. I think what has happened in the church world is— we stopped calling them to something. We effort-ed to reach them by the wrong means. We lowered the bar and said, “Well, if you’ll just show up for an hour, we won’t ask much of you.”
Young adults—they want to be called to something. Jesus says, “Come and die.” That was His effective way to reach them—is: “Hey; follow Me. Take up your cross and follow Me.” When we started coming at them with the big ask, saying: “Hey; come and be a part of this movement; and live according to what God says; and study Him; and love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” they really responded to it.
Bob: This issue of faith and how that fits into adulting is something you understand, firsthand, because you were an adolescent, well passed your teen years; weren’t you?
JP: Yes; I was raised in the church; and so grew up going to church multiple times a week; went to a parochial school/a church school for nine years. Really, my theology was that God was this Sheriff in the sky that was going to catch me doing something wrong.
When I went to college, I didn’t have any of the maturity that you need to go to college with. All of these things I promised I would never do—I did in epic proportions, which looked like girls, sex, and eventually drugs and alcohol, and the party, and all of that. I’m running from God. I don’t want to face God, because He’s the Sheriff. I don’t want to face the Sheriff. I don’t want anything to do with Him for that season of my life.
I created some really, really bad habits for myself. I remember laying in my on-campus apartment, in my twin-sized bed, saying my prayers. All by myself, I just started weeping violently/just crying hysterically. Then I knew something was wrong. You know, I didn’t know if it was the Holy Spirit, or guilt, or what it was—I didn’t have a category for it—but I reached out to someone the next day. I just said, “Hey,”—and I just confessed my sins. Honestly, I didn’t know what else to do—I said: “Hey; this is everything I’ve done. What’s wrong with me?”
They gave me some really terrible advice; they said: “Well, that’s just college. That’s just what you do. You just kind of sow your wild oats; and after college, you get right with God. You figure it out; you know? You kind of come back to Him. He’ll be there, waiting on you.”
I was like: “Great! That’s what I’ll do.” That’s what I did; I continued those things in epic proportion. I wish they would have told me is that I was creating some habits and stepping in some traps that I wasn’t going to get out of easily. In fact, I put myself in quite the cage by the time that I had graduated college.
I, then, moved to Dallas, Texas. I was kind of everything wrong with Dallas in one person—[Laughter]—was pretentious; I wanted to be a millionaire before I was 30. I landed this job in corporate America. I was climbing the corporate ladder. I got a promotion; I had the Jaguar S-Type, and the penthouse condo, and different watches for different days of the week, and different suits.
Now, I’ve just replaced vices—still have a really healthy addiction to pornography. I’m at this club one night, and I see this girl that I knew from college. I was like: “Hey; what are you doing this weekend?” She said, “Well, I’m going to check out this church tomorrow.” I said, “Cool; pick me up”; you know? We just—no big deal—“Hey, pick me up. Yes; church—that’s good.”
Ann: Had you been to church much in that time?
JP: I would go—you know, Ann, I would go sometimes; and I would just sit in the back. I would daydream for an hour, kind of paying a penance for my sins; you know?—just trying to get right with God. I was bored out of my mind; I wasn’t listening to anything. I didn’t know anybody. I would just was kind of sneak in the back and then sneak out afterwards.
She picks me up; she takes me. I went, hung over. I sat in the back row; I smelled like smoke from the night before. I began to wrestle with: “Alright; what do I believe about God?” I’ve always called myself a Christian. If you’d have asked me, I would have said: ‘Yes! I’m a Christian. I’m an American, you know; sure, a Christian,”—whatnot/whatever. But I was like: “Okay; what do I really believe is going to happen to me when I die? What do I really believe about God?”
I was probably, at best, agnostic. I believed there is a God; but I don’t know who He is—and really thought, “What are the odds I’d be born to the right country?”—like: “If I was born in India, I’d be Hindu. If I was born in China, I’d be Buddhist. If I was born in Iran, I’d be Muslim. If I was born in Israel, I might be Jewish. So, what are the odds I’d be born to the right country/to the right God?”
I bought a book on world religions; I started reading up. I was really blown away that, in the Quran, Jesus is Isa. The Hindus are open to worshipping Jesus, and other religions would acknowledge Him. Somehow, this carpenter from Bethlehem—a town that no one would have ever heard of except He was born there—reset the calendar, that we started counting over again.
This was blowing my mind that I didn’t just have to take a step of faith but that there was actually evidence to support this narrative that this man named Jesus lived, and He died, and He rose from the grave. There, as a 20-something, I placed my faith in Jesus Christ, really, for the first time after a lifetime of being in church—all kinds of church—Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist—all sorts of denominations. I came to this place, where I really believe that Jesus died for me. I really believe that God raised Him from the dead; I really believe that He lives with me and will influence me towards things that lead to life. Everything in my life changed.
That’s why I’m so passionate to call young adults to Christ—not to church and not to, you know, memorizing some Scriptures or anything—but really to have a relationship with Jesus, and let Him be Lord of your life, and to know Him, and to believe that His instruction leads to life—that He’s not trying to rip you off—but He’s trying to set you free.
Bob: I’m thinking of people I know—in their 40s, 50s, 60s—who have been successful in a lot of ventures in life but have never had this transformation/this conversion that you are talking about. I’m thinking, “Have they ever adulted?”
Bob: Jesus said, “I’ve come that you might have—
Bob: —“and have it abundantly.” They’ve had life, but have they had it abundantly?
Bob: Have they understood there is a difference between what you’re doing and what you were created to do? Adulting is stepping into: “This is what life is all about in the first place,” and realigning yourself in that direction.
JP: Yes; you know, Jim Collins says, “The enemy of great is good—being good enough.” I think the enemy of having an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ is thinking that you do; you know? Having enough of something—like I said—I said my prayers at night. My entire life, I would go to church; my entire life, thinking, “That’s what it means to be a Christian.” Then it was redefined for me.
I would hear people say things like, “You’ve got to have a relationship with Jesus.” I’m like, “They are just saying that”; you know? “That’s just something people say”; but then, when it happened in my life, it changed.
The story that I heard one Sunday was about a horse. It was about a wild stallion. I don’t know if you think it’s a lame illustration or not, but the Holy Spirit used it to change my life. This horse just wanted to be free. In its pursuit of freedom, he had to hunt for food, and hunt for water, and find shelter from the elements. All of these local farmers and villagers wanted to capture this horse and take him home as their own; but he was like, “No; I want to be free.” I resonated with that—like, “I want to be free.”
One day, this local farmer successfully captured this horse, took him home, provided for him, loved him, cared for him. Eventually, broke him, was able to ride him. In riding him, would lead him to food, and lead him to water, and provide shelter for him. It was this line: “It wasn’t until he was fully submissive to his master that he truly experienced freedom for the first time.”
It hit me; I realized: “Man, if there is a God, and He created everything, and He formed me in my mother’s womb, and He knows how many hairs are on my head, then He’s got a plan for my life. Why am I trying so hard to drive, and to be in control, and to be ruler of my own life? Why don’t I yield everything to Him?” This is the paradox of the Christian faith—that victory comes through surrender or submission, and freedom comes through surrender. You know, this is what we live.
Bob: You had to have somebody step into your life, at some point in the midst of this, and kind of help guide you. I mean, I’m sure the sermons you were hearing on Sunday morning or whatever was causing you to think; but you had to connect with somebody, along the way, who was able to say, “Let me help walk you through this path”; didn’t you?
JP: I didn’t for a while. I would sit there, and I would think. I wouldn’t leave the church; I would sit in the parking lot and just cry. I was just really emotional at this time for some reason. The Holy Spirit was doing a work. I would wrestle with, “What do I believe is true?” and feel guilty for, you know, my sins. Then, at some point in this journey, I would invite others. My friends started going with me: “Hey; you’ve got to come see this church”; you know?
At some point, I said, “You know, I should join this church.” It was a big church, and it was growing. It was early on; it was a growing church. At some point in the journey, I said, “I’m going to join.” I went through the membership class, and the guy that was teaching the class—he would say all of these Scriptures from memory. He would just talk about God’s Word, and you could tell that he loved God.
It was our little group—we had three of us that were going through this class together. We went to him and said, “Hey; would you teach us the Bible?” We were thinking he was going to say: “Nah; I’m busy. I can’t do that”; but he was like: “Are you kidding? Sure! Yes! Let’s go. When? How about Thursday at 7 am?” “Awesome.” We would sit down, and he would open it up. He went, “Genesis 1:1,”—he read it, and we’d talk about it. “Genesis 1:2,”—he’d read it, and we’d talk about it. We just did that. I think we made it to Genesis, Chapter 7, but it was—discipleship was happening.
This guy was just like, “Yes; come with me.” He would invite us over, and we would hang out with his family and have pizza. He had answers from the Scriptures. When he didn’t, he would give us resources to help us find those answers. I didn’t know—you know, when you’re growing, you don’t feel like you’re growing; but God was growing us and growing me.
Ann: What kind of transformations started happening in your life?
JP: Some things happened really fast. Some things died really slow, like pornography. That’s one that: “Oh, I wish I didn’t have those mental images in my mind,” “I wish hadn’t experienced that,” “I wish I didn’t require so much healing,” “I wish I would have learned to date better so that I could be married better. Now, I’m stuck in a relationship.”
Well, eventually—that’s kind of the next season—is I got married. I didn’t know how to be married; but that happened a little slower and really took some intentional people around me: holding me accountable/daily prayer. I mean, recovery is the word I would use for today; I didn’t have that word then.
I liken it to a friend, who enlisted. He became a Navy SEAL. Everything in his life changed. When I would talk to him, he would speak differently. He was like, “Yes; can I call you back at 0300?” “Roger”; you know? [Laughter] I’m like: “Who’s Roger? What are you talking about? This is JP.” [Laughter] He’d have different clothes, and they told him where he was going to live. He had a different mission, and he ran with different people. Everything changed when he enlisted.
That’s really what happened to me—is who I hung out with changed, what I did for fun changed, the way I dated changed, the way I talked changed, the way I worked changed. Really, my purpose in life changed. It was like the scales had fallen from my eyes. I thought: “If there is a heaven and an eternity, and I’m going to be somewhere forever, and there’s a God, and I’m just here for a little while—relatively speaking, I’m here for but a vapor—then what else am I going to live for other than Jesus? I just need to tell everyone about this Jesus.” So that—like my whole life’s trajectory changed.
Bob: I’m sitting here, thinking about 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul says, “When I was a child”—
JP: Yes—“walked like a child, thought like a child.”
Bob: —“but when I became a man, I gave up childish things.”
JP: That’s right.
Bob: I’m thinking about your book, Welcome to Adulting. To become a mature person, the faith aspect of life has got to be something you wrestle with and something you ultimately surrender to. Otherwise, you are still a child at some level; aren’t you? No matter how well life is wired together for you in every other area—
Bob: —you’re still a kid if you’re not following God.
JP: I think the context of that chapter is so key to wrap up there—is you don’t know how to love. You can’t love yourself; you can’t love others. You can’t love God rightfully if you don’t have faith where it goes. He talks about the motive of love, and you’re but a clanging symbol; you’re noise. You can run game; you can talk to people. You can try to get the attention of someone from the opposite sex; but you can’t really love as God has called us to until we have a right understanding of who He is and what He’s done for us.
Bob: It’s so important—it’s a right understanding of who He is; a right understanding of our own condition—
JP: That’s right.
Bob: —and our need for Him. I see a lot of people today who don’t understand the depth of their sin.
Bob: They see sin as bad habits; they don’t see sin as rebellion against God. If you keep running from God, you’ll never get to adulting the way you’re talking about people getting to adulting.
JP: No one ever gets away with sin. I think that’s the lie from the enemy—is I think we can think, “Hey; I’ll escape the consequences.”
When Monica, my wife, and I got married, Bob, we had become Christians. We cut out all the physical stuff; we said, “Alright; God is ruler of our lives.” I’m like: “Well, this isn’t a lot of fun. We should get married.” [Laughter] We got married; and the guy said, you know, “I now pronounce you husband and wife.”
I walked her down the aisle. In the foyer of the chapel, where we were/the foyer of the church, I held her in my arms—my new wife—and I prayed as the first act of us being married. I prayed/I said: “Lord, thank You so much for allowing me to escape the consequences of my sin.” Specifically, I was thinking of my sexual sin; I was thinking: “I don’t have children out-of-wedlock. I don’t have some psycho ex-girlfriend wanting to kill me outside. I made it. I got away with it.” Then—
Dave: How long did that last?
JP: Yes; so year one was the honeymoon; it was great. It was all like, “This is amazing.” Then year two hit; and I realize, “I have no idea how to be in a monogamous relationship with a woman.” All of a sudden, I feel trapped: “I don’t know how to lay my life down for her as Christ loved the church. I don’t know how to do these things. I don’t think I want to be here.” She’s like, “I don’t think I want to be here.”
So, now, we’re stuck in this union—love or not—we don’t like each other very much. I’ve got these addictions that I don’t know what to do with—you know?—that I’m hiding from people. I’m thinking, “Okay; I want to look at pornography.” I’ve heard people say, “I’ll struggle with pornography until I get married.” I’m like, “What a joke!” I will tell you: “I’ve never met anybody with marriage problems. I only meet people with single-people problems they brought into marriage—the problems they never dealt with before marriage.” That was me, and I needed help.
Dave: So what did you do?
JP: I turned to the church.
JP: Yes; that same guy that said, “Turn to Genesis 1:1,”—I called him up one day. I was just like: “Hey; here’s what’s going on. Man, marriage—this is for the birds. It’s really hard. I don’t know that I want to be this. I’m having just—we’re just struggling all the time. She wants to start a family. I’m like, ‘I don’t even know if we should stay together.’”
He didn’t sound the alarm. He wasn’t concerned; you know? He just really calmly said: “Okay; listen. Hey; what do you believe is true about God? Why do you think He created marriage? Hey; what do you think He wants for you today in this situation?” I would say some things. “I don’t know if that’s what He wants. Why don’t we read this?” He would direct me to a Scripture. It wasn’t one conversation and done. I called him again; I called him again; I called him again—just kept putting the train back on the tracks, and we kept moving forward.
One thing that happened in that time is we got plugged into a small group that I didn’t want to go to. These couples came around us, and these people were so different. They had never partied like us. They were never lost in the world like we were. They were raised in the church; they knew God’s Word.
I can remember sitting with them—one, I remember calling Monica and saying: “I’m never going back to that. That was fine, but I’ve got nothing in common with them”; but I went back. I kept going back, and I kept going back. I would ask a question about materialism. They would say, “Well, hey; turn to Luke 18.” I’m like, “How do you know what’s in Luke 18?”—like: “What? You guys know what’s in this book? Are you serious?” Like, “Who knows what’s in the Bible?” They’re like: “Yes; we read it. We study it. We apply it to our lives.” They just kept pointing me back to that. It was really fun—just the journey into ministry; then, five years later, those guys walked alongside of us.
One of them—we recently moved to Waco, and one of those families—those guys I had nothing in common with—they pulled their kids out of school and actually moved with us—
JP: —just kind of an amazing punchline.
Bob: You know, I can hear a lot of parents going, “I think my kids need to see a difference between showing up at church and having a real, authentic relationship with Jesus.” I’m wondering how many parents, themselves—
Dave: That’s what I was thinking, Bob. I was thinking: “Someone is listening right now, and what they really need, obviously, is Jesus—center/foundation.” What you just shared—so many—I mean, I’m a pastor; I know the value of small groups. I know how many people in our church just sort of say: “Yes; that’s nice,” “Yes; someday”; and they don’t step into. That changed your life—
Dave: —having somebody to walk in front of you, beside you; now, behind you.
I would say to a listener, right now: “Today is your day to get in a group. Today is the day to find out—I’ve got to find community.” We’re going to talk about that further; but you know, adulting like a boss—you know one of your chapters is about community and friendship, and that changed your life.
Dave: I’m not sure you’re married without that; right?
JP: As much as anything other than Jesus changed my life—
JP: —getting plugged into a community group changed my life. To the parents that are saying, “Hey”—anyone who feels right now—“Yes, my kid needs to grow up. They need to get this,”—the number one way kids will get this—even adult kids—is through examples.
When all of this happened in my life, I did remember the reality that I never was up before my mom. She was always up before me, by a lamp, reading the Word of God. There are those memories—like are seared in my mind—that when I would go to tell them, “Goodnight,” my dad was bedside, on his knees, saying his prayers. So, there is something about those images that stayed with me that, after I had gone my prodigal ways, that when I was ready to come back to God, there was something there that was like: “Wait a minute! Well, if that’s where they turned, then, maybe, that’s where I need to turn.”
Bob: I’m thinking there may be a lot of moms and dads—or for that matter, just people in the church, who see younger people and say, “Could we go through a book together?”—get a copy of JP’s book, Welcome to Adulting: Navigating Faith, Friendship, Finances, and the Future, and let this book be the set-up to the conversations you will have as you go through these chapters. Those conversations, your experience—the mistakes you’ve made—are going to be transformative in the lives of young people, who are around you as you walk through this.
We’ve got copies of JP’s book, Welcome to Adulting, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order the book online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. Our phone number is 1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Get a copy of JP Pokluda’s book, Welcome to Adulting: Navigating Faith, Friendship, Finances, and the Future; either order online or give us a call.
By the way, with this being Valentine’s week, we’d like to invite you to take a little assessment and see how your relationship/how your marriage is doing. Over the years, here at FamilyLife®, we have come to recognize that there are five key areas where marriages need to be functional—you need to be doing well in these areas for your relationship to be doing well. We’ve put together an assessment that you can take online. You can answer a couple of dozen questions; and at the end, it will help you evaluate areas where your marriage is thriving and areas that might be some weak spots.
If you’ve got some weak spots in some areas, we’ve got recommendations for podcasts you can listen to, articles you can read, things we can offer you to help your marriage/your relationship grow. All of this is free. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and take the online assessment. Look for the link that says, “Love That Lasts”; and the assessment is right there. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and begin working on building a stronger marriage today.
And then be sure to join us back tomorrow. JP Pokluda is going to be here again. We’re going to continue talking about the transition from our teen years into adulthood and what that looks like in the areas of finances and our careers/our jobs. We’ll talk about that tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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