“In my head, I thought I had the perfect formula for life,” said Joel Rodriguez. “My parents are faithful believers who raised us in church and pointed us toward Christ, but the world taught me to prioritize other things. My ‘perfect formula’ meant I could talk about Christianity and know Scripture, but I also partied, slept around, and became addicted to pornography, alcohol, and drugs. I thought my lifestyle would bring me satisfaction, contentment, and happiness.
“I was the guy that could easily influence my friends. I often pressured my friends to do more drugs or go talk to a girl and take her home. I realize now I used my influence to bring other men down with me.
“I attended the Air Force Academy my first two years of college. I snuck out with some friends for a night of partying and drugs. On our way back around 4 AM, my roommate called me to tell me they were doing room checks after a fire alarm went off. Intoxicated, I thought through excuses to give when I was caught. The Air Force Academy enforced strict rules, and I knew I was going to get in trouble, especially because I was underage. I tried to lie and talk my way out of it but was arrested by the campus police.
“I remember sitting handcuffed and wondering, ‘What am I doing?’ I thought I had cracked the code for the perfect life. I was at church most Sundays, was doing great in school, and had a great social life, but it still didn’t feel right. That night was the lowest I’d ever felt.
“The only people I knew I could call the next day were my parents. I told them exactly what happened and how I’d been living my life for the last few years. My father stopped me and said, ‘Joel, you’ve never had a relationship with Christ. You don’t know what it is like to walk with the Lord. This is a result of your own depravity.’ To hear that from my father, someone I’ve looked up to my whole life, shook me. I started to question myself, ‘Do I really know Christ? I know verses, but do I actually know Him?’
“After that call, I sat alone and cried out to God, ‘If I start living my life with Jesus, I don’t know if I’ll be happy. But I am willing to give You a shot, because I see my sin is getting me nowhere.’
“For the next three months in my probation period, I wrongly put a lot of emphasis on my actions and works to earn God’s favor. I thought if I stopped drinking, sleeping around, and watching porn, and started doing more ‘church things’ like praying and fasting, I would be on His good side, and He would grant my wishes and allow me to stay at the Air Force Academy.
“The result was not what I expected. I got kicked out of the Air Force Academy anyway. I was so belligerently mad at God. I was doing the right actions, but I wasn’t getting what I wanted. I wondered if it was worth following Him at all.
“The next three days after that news, I did not talk to God. I wanted my good works to be repaid. My mom kept calling me throughout those days. She prayed for me and reminded me of the things I’d learned growing up: God had a plan for me, and I just had to trust Him (Proverbs 3:5-8). I realized that to follow Christ, I had to fully surrender to Him in all that I do. Even if life doesn’t go the way I want, I must continue to be willing to follow Christ. This was hard for me.
“The third day, I got on my knees and prayed, ‘I know the world doesn’t satisfy me. God, I am ready to fully submit my life to You. This time, whatever comes my way, I know that Your grace and salvation is better for me (Romans 6:23). I am willing to follow You even if it means my life does not turn out the way I want.’
“Life really started to change after that. I finished my college years at Baylor University. It ended up being some of the best years of my life, because I completely changed where I spent my time and who I was influenced by. I was surrounded by godly men in a biblical community with Christ-centered friendships.
“God was so merciful in the foundation of faith He built through my parents. It completely changed the direction of my life when I got older because I had some knowledge of Him to fall back on. And when my life felt empty and low because of my sin, He used my parents to encourage me to have a real relationship with Christ.
“As I have grown in my faith, Matthew 28:19-20 really stands out: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.’
“Before, I used my influence and personality in sinful ways, but now the Lord has been teaching me how to steward my influence to share Christ with the next generation of young adults. When I serve at The Porch, I get to show others that a relationship with Christ is not about works. My obedience to the Lord is now solely because I know how deeply He loves me (John 3:16).”