During my freshman year in college while playing football at Ranger Jr. College one of my teammates was killed in a car accident. Even though I had been trained to share the gospel and had spent 7 weeks having breakfast, lunch, and dinner with him, I had not shared the gospel with him. In fact, I had never shared my faith with anyone personally. God used this to convict me of one of my core beliefs – I needed to make sharing the gospel part of my life as often as I had the opportunity. With this, God called me into the ministry and I began serving at Calvary Baptist Church in Cisco, Texas.
Conviction & Judgement
Through the years, God has continued to grow me and show me other core values to apply in the ministry He has called me to. One such core value came from a journey I had in desiring to help teenagers I was serving. In an effort to help people, I would look for the struggles and difficulties in their lives. I began to see everyone as a project and look for their problems. I became critical and dark. All I could see were problems, struggles, difficulties and sin. This developed in me a condemning, judgmental, and harsh nature. I could only see people as the sin they struggled with. My faith had become more of trying to make sure those in my ministry lived up to the standards that I felt they needed to be and since I was so hard on myself, I was hard on those around me. In the midst of this struggle God used a mentor, Dr. Frankie Rainey, to show me a core value that would change my life and my ministry. As I was sharing with him about the weight and urgency of helping so many and the overwhelming amount of sin in my life and in the lives of those around me, He simply reminded me I was to join Christ in the ministry of restoration and redemption. I was not to be in the role of the Holy Spirit or God. Conviction and judgement were not my responsibility. I needed to see people as Christ did. Each and every person was created by God to bring Him glory. He desires that each and every person come to repentance and eternal life. “For God so loved the world he gave His only son, that whosoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
I needed to begin to see people as God created them, for His glory. I needed to see them as people He loves and desires a relationship with. As people that are full of potential and possibility in Christ (Colossians 3:12-14). I needed to be a person of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (Romans 8). I needed to start forgiving as the Lord forgave me. God challenged me to move from a place of condemnation and judgment, to one of grace and mercy. I needed to learn to trust that not only is salvation a work of God, but sanctification is a work of God as well. I had to remember I was not the fixer in their lives; my job was and is to simply bare witness to the gospel. The good news is that “While we were still sinners Christ died for us” and the life we now live, we live in Him (Romans 5:8 & Ephesians 1). I had to come to trust that those who truly know and believe in Christ do not have to be bent to my will (I can be wrong and have been many times). Those who believe will not only be changed but will also desire to be changed from the conviction of the Holy Spirit who lives within them.
Instead of living in a world of darkness I was called to live in the light, knowing that “God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). I realized that I was to approach people understanding how much I had been forgiven and that I too once lived according to the flesh. When I read Scripture, I found that those who were treated with sharp words by Jesus were those religious leaders who had enslaved the people to legalism and man-made rule and law. They treated those who were under their care as subjects and not people who were dearly loved. In Matthew 18, Scripture clearly teaches that the way I am to treat others is to forgive since I have been forgiven so much. He actually calls the servant wicked who did not forgive, but held people to account for his own betterment (vs.32).
People are not my projects designed to make me look and feel better about how I fixed them. They are wonderful, amazing creations of God created for His glory. He loves them and desires that all come to repentance and I should love them as well. My life had to change. I needed to look at everyone I met through the eyes of Christ and join Him in His ministry as He looked out and saw them, “Harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). His words on the cross to those who stood there and those who were part of killing him were, “Father forgive them, they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
I began to live life seeing people as wonderfully and beautifully made by God and full of amazing potential and promise. All people. God has not given me the ability to read minds and know motivations of the heart. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. My work is to share the gospel, the good news “that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). I am to love God and love others, to shepherd the sheep by tending to them and caring for them. The correction I give must be done in love and out of a heart that desires to see them drawn to God and not scattered from God. It should be that of a loving, kind, compassionate, gentle, humble, and patient person who puts up with a lot and doesn’t seek their own way and desires but instead seeks the will of the Father. With this God changed me and I purposely began to live life by choosing to see the best in people, assuming the best from people, not assuming they meant to do harm (although they may have caused harm or even meant to cause harm) but assuming they did not know what they were doing. I am fully aware that people are capable of meaning to do evil but that is for God to discern. I would rather be wrong assuming the best than be wrong assuming the worst. I will always err on the side of grace. ”But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such there is no Law” (Galatians 5:22-23).
It has not always been easy to live like this. As a leader, many people grew frustrated with me over my decisions to be graceful and merciful, especially when it didn’t fit with what seemed to be just. There are many times when I held my ground on this principle because I knew what it was like to go down that dark road of condemnation and judgment. I will answer to God if I was graceful and showed mercy and I was not supposed to (I don’t find a Scripture that tells me to withhold grace and mercy). God has also convicted me to treat those who are frustrated with the same grace and mercy. I am given some solace in that I will be judged with the same measure of judgement I give out but I am also fearful of those times I was judgmental and condemning (Matthew 7:1-2).
Work in Honduras
I believe with this core value God has prepared me in a very unique way for the mission field here in Northwestern Honduras. I have had many years of refining and now as I go into the villages I see everyone as a wonderful opportunity to share the amazing truth with. Instead of seeing each village and person for their problems I see them as people who God dearly loves. There is potential to see the kingdom increase in each individual and in the church as a whole. The problems they face are not obstacles at all for God and we know that it is by grace through faith that they will be saved, not of themselves. When they are saved God has prepared a work for them.
My only sadness is for those whom I come in contact with, who choose to miss out on the abundant life that God has for them (John 10:10). I am saddened for those who miss out on such a great salvation or to know such a great Savior and choose to live life in the darkness of seeing everyone else through such harsh eyes. My prayer is that they are set free to completely trust in the work of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the work of the Holy Sprit and His convicting power, and the overall work of God in His amazing grace and love. It is not my job nor is it in my power to change lives. It is and will always be the work of God. I am simply a vessel He has decided to use by His grace and mercy.
I am so thrilled to be joined with 61 Isaiah Ministries who has at the heart of their core values that we are walking with people and not simply completing projects. Our Core Values are Prayer, Gospel Saturation, Education, Empowering Local Leaders, and Breaking Cycles of Poverty. All of these core values are about loving God and loving others, bringing people to relationship with God and His people.
Walking with them through good times and bad, in poverty or plenty, in sickness and wellness; not giving up but pressing on and persevering (Shannon would say having grit). None of us are perfect but we are all on this journey together in the unity that can only come from God’s amazing grace and love.
Alejandra Mendoza says
Thank you Bro. Jeff for sharing your testimony, I too feel like I have in some sort of way followed that road of condemnation and judgement when dealing with babies in the gospel or people who have turned down Jesus, while I was reading this blog post, I was reminded of The grace and mercy of our God, I pray that you and your family continue having such faith in Christ and being His Feet in Honduras for God’s glory!
Ally Mendoza – Arlington, TX
Earlene Mays says
What a blessing it was to read this. Thank you for sharing. His bless you, your family, and your work in Honduras.
Great job Bro. Jeff!! You are truly full of grace!♥️
Dr. Gene H. Talbot says
Well said, my brother. You have been an encouragement to me in our time together at FBC Crosby. I have been blessed by your focus on individuals and seeing them grow in the grace and knowledge of our Savior and Lord. May the Lord richly bless you and your family, whom I love dearly, as you serve Him.
Susan Parnell says
I loved this post. Thank you, Jeff.
Monroe Copeland says
Wow. You always present Jesus’s message so well. So much to think about in what you have said yet it is the simplest of ways God wants us to be and act. There is so much value in what you said. God has given you many, many talents and you use them so well for His purpose and glory. YOU explain HIS story and HIS expectations of us so well. You and your family mean so much to the whole Copeland clan. Prayers and Blessings for you, your immediate family and your family in Honduras.
Thanks Jeff.those are words of encouragement for me as well. I was also blessed to have watched you make that changed and it has been evident in our friendship.
I love ya Brother