When I contemplate from time to time on what exactly made me the man I am today, it is not necessarily a question of what or how, but who made me the man I am today. Over the years, I have had the honor of learning under some great men the things of God and this blog series is meant to pay respects to these men that invested into my life. Because if it were not for these men, I would not be a man of God.
When deciding which man to pay respects to first, I had to start with my first mentor: Dr. J who is formally known better as Dr. Jason Kalan. From 6th grade to 8th grade, Dr. J personally discipled myself and a collection of other students to be trained up as the future of the church. That was the vision of this group when it started out back sometime around the year of 2009.
My first impressions of Dr. J when I first met him were that he was very tall (6’4” at that) and a little odd. I mean, he had and still has some interesting quirks that make him a unique character. He has had the same silver Saturn sedan for over a decade, has his phone in a plastic zip-block bag to protect it from any possible damage, along with being one of the biggest Buckeye football fans I’ve ever come across in my day. He also has a unique style of attire, in that he exclusively wears, no matter the weather, a single colored t-shirt (or a Buckeyes t-shirt) tucked into either a pair of jean pants (for the cold weather) or jean shorts (for the cold weather) as he finishes off his distinct look with white sneakers. Funny enough, his taste in attire influenced me over the years because I also own a silver sedan and always tuck in my shirt when I train for Strongman. Consider it an homage to his legacy in some peculiar way.
I met Dr. J in the 5th grade when he taught the 5th & 6th grade joint-class at church Wednesday nights and he taught with a precision I had not seen before until then when it came to the Scriptures. He was so firm in his high view of the things of God and at the same time really fun to listen to when he taught us kids who were attentively listening as he spoke way above our heads. At first, it was difficult to hear about all of these new things I had never heard concerning the legitimacy of the Bible from a doctor who used a terminology I did not necessarily understand, but eventually I caught onto what he has been teaching the whole time: our intelligent Creator built us to be intelligent creatures that teach others God’s Word in an intelligent way that honors God.
An important lesson I have carried with me all the way into adulthood and one that is primarily due to both the strong influence of Dr. J and Kevin King who was the parent of two of the kids in that Wednesday night class. These two men I would consider to be my first exposure to what a ‘father in the faith’ looks like as they led by their talk and their walk, as well as my first exposure to apologetics outside of the home. Something I will always admire is their consistency, but this blog-post is more so focused with Dr. J, so in a future blog-post I will speak on Kevin King’s impact on my life even to this day.
The moment Dr. J took over the 5th & 6th grade joint-class was the moment that drastically changed my perception of church life. We did things that other youth groups were simply not doing. In fact, we were not even a youth group, but we did stuff that even they wouldn’t do! We would start every Wednesday night with a game of tackle football right out on the green grass in front of the church with only parking lot lights to brighten the scenery. For months on end we would play ball and then go right back inside to hear a sermon from Dr. J teaching book-by-book, verse-by-verse, and even word-by-word. Those are some of my favorite memories from that time in my life.
What he did was revolutionary: he gave us what we wanted first, which was just to have fun before we gave him what he wanted, which was attentive students learning about the LORD. It was brilliant what he did back then and now it is the formula that that church currently has to this day. He split the hour and a half we had into two forty-five minute sections: first we played games and then the second half would be serious study of the Bible where we would be totally engaged as we would grapple with the text in front of us as a team. Although to be fair, the football ended after a while due to too many kids going home wounded from a couple of those late night games, but we didn’t care. We worked around it and kept to Dr. J’s formula.
As time went on, there came a time in the 6th grade when Dr. J formally asked me, along with some other students from the youth group if he could disciple us for a thing he called a D-Group (i.e. Discipleship Group). The first of its kind for kids our age at our church and at first some of the parents were not so sure about this because nothing like it had been done before at our church. But he insisted because he strongly believed that we, the handpicked misfits, were to be discipled in a small group setting to further our spiritual maturity.
Eventually, the group was formed and we would meet up every Sunday after church to not only catch the latest Sunday night football game, but to spend hours in God’s Word. By hours, I literally mean hours as Dr. J was and is notorious for teaching extremely long sermons. For instance, one Sunday afternoon he taught a sermon on Joshua Ch. 2 that lasted over 4 hours. Some of us say it was even close to 6 hours, but nevertheless it was the longest sermon I’ve ever heard. From what I can recall, this discipleship group consisted of the likes of Chase Moore, David Dekhtyaryuk, Jeffrey Torres, Jeremiah Jasso, Kristian Moore, Tyler Geselevich and myself. This was my first experience using what my Dad had raised me up in, which was hermeneutics, in a practical way for the first time.
For those two or so years of discipleship, we intensely studied the Bible and soaked in all that we could at our age. As a single man at the time, Dr. J also treated us like we were his own children, in that he spoiled us like crazy. He took us to Elitch Gardens on multiple occasions, a couple Broncos football games, and even several concerts year round to see such childhood favorites as Skillet, Kutless, Thousand Foot Krutch, and more. Yet, he didn’t just do it to spoil us, but to show that being a Christian didn’t mean we couldn’t have fun or enjoy the good things in life. Rather, because we were Christians we could enjoy every good thing even more since we knew who gave it to us to begin with, namely God.
After the D-Group ended, a new group began that was smaller and simpler. This was the Teaching Group and it consisted of five students: Chase, Corban (my younger brother), David, Kristian, and I. The group lasted about a year and mainly focused on the basics of how to teach a sermon. As I was apart of both the D-Group and the Teaching Group, I taught several sermons. These sermons were the following: my first sermon was on Job 33:1-12, then a 3-part series on the book of Ruth, a sermon on angelology, a sermon on Christophanies in the OT, James Ch. 4, the book of Philemon, and before the group abruptly ended I was in the process of completing a sermon on Ephesians 6:12-20.
Excluding my first sermon on Job 33:1-12, every sermon afterwards was taught to the 5th & 6th grade joint-class. Once again, this was the first of its kind to take place at our church, “Calvary Chapel Aurora,” that we being only a year or two older than the 5th & 6th grade joint-class would teach them full length sermons. To be fair, it was actually Bradford Austin, my brother-in-law, who taught the very first sermon to any group of kids in this way. Since the group ended, I have only taught publicly once and it was supposed to be a 15-minute sermon, but turned into a 40-minute sermon on Titus 2:11-15 called “Get Your Head in the Game.” Talk about the apple not falling far from the tree!
Sometime around the 8th grade, I had an urge or gut feeling from the Holy Spirit to leave the Teaching Group. It was something I couldn’t shake, so I left and the group went on a little longer before disbanding when Dr. J abruptly dropped out of ministry altogether. For us students that had been under his leadership for years, we were really confused because since then there was no explanation for why he left. There were an abundance of rumors and gossip that led to some awful opinions about both him and his reputation, but no one took the time to explain the full story because not many knew when it initially occurred.
It was only until I recently met up with Dr. J after a 4-year hiatus to catch up that he told me why there was such a quick end to both his involvement in youth ministry and the Teaching Group. While those that gossiped said there was some sin in his life that pulled him away from our church, it was actually that he had to get his house in order because of a business partnership that went south where he worked. During this time, he recently married Kimberly Moore and they began their new life together, along with her six kids. Two of those kids were Chase and Kristian mentioned previously who I was really close with back in those days. This was the final lesson I learned from Dr. J: leaders take the hardest falls.
He and his family took a lot of flak for taking time off to get situated and for Dr. J to find new work elsewhere. When he did try to re-enter ministry, his request was rejected. Ultimately, Dr. J says that despite what other people say about you, only God knows what you are going through so just keep following Him and His Word, not the word of other people because they usually don’t know what they are talking about in the first place.
Through the years, I’ve reflected back on how great an impact Dr. J has had on my life and how he course-corrected my life to be solely centered on Christ in all that I do. Regarding his views on those of us in the D-Group and the Teaching Group becoming the future leaders of the church, he remarked that “these old wine skins could use some new wine.” In other words, make way for the Millennials to lead the church back to Christ and not to cookie-cutter ways of the modern church that would rather use formulas then obey the Father.
After all these years, Dr. J has been a huge and positive influence in my life and will always be a mentor that I can look up to when I wrestle in life with the challenges of this day in age. He was my first “father in the faith” and showed me a precise way of living out the Christian life. How to understand the Bible in an in-depth way that will sustain me when I go through a rough patch. No matter what people say on the sidelines, you’re the one that got that touchdown at the end of the day. No matter what naysayers say on their high horses, you’re the one that is listening to the voice of the LORD and following His ways as they are higher than the ways of men. Lastly, thank you Dr. J for being a mentor that made me a man. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!