Mentors That Made Me A Man: Andrew Morrison

When I first met Andrew Morrison, it was at one of the Calvary Chapel Aurora summer youth group events for the high school ministry and we were playing rugby at Olympic Park. Before that day, I had never heard of rugby. After that day, I realized it was probably the hardest sport I have ever played. Oh, and the guy leading this skull-crushing sport was none other than Andrew himself: the man-child that served at CCA in the high school ministry and who loved to pull pranks on everyone in youth group.

There were a few guys from the youth group like Bailey Monroe and Isaac Hardwick there, so I didn’t feel that alone trying out this new sport. Although, I was intimidated by Andrew and his sheer size compared to me as we were on opposing teams. At the time, he was near 300lbs and I was less than half his weight, so I took quite a beating that day during the game. It went as expected: bloody, dirty, and non-stop adrenaline as we went back and forth playing rugby. Regardless, looking back it was actually a good time. Lots of smack-talk, testosterone, and a whole lot of really painful tackles worthy of an ESPN rewind. So that was the start of a discipleship bond between Andrew and I that is still ongoing to this day.

As I continued to go to the high school youth group at CCA, I figured Andrew would only be interested in hanging out with the athletes that went there. Those athletes were usually Bailey, my older brother John, the Fouse boys, Jeffrey Torres, Lomar Rodriguez, the Obinnah trio, and some other athletes that would occasionally attend here and there. Yet, Andrew took the time to invest in the scrawny, 120lbs guy that spent all his free time playing Pikmin, Mech Assault, and other obscure video games that only mega-nerds would like or even play.

At first, it didn’t make any sense why he wanted to invest in me and be that mentor in my life. I mean, we had literally nothing in common. Well, we both were known by Christ and for Andrew. that was enough reason to invite me to join his “Leaders In Training” group, also known as “L. I. T.” This group was a disciple program for hand-picked, high schoolers that wanted to grow deeper in their faith in Christ. It was a group that included Adaeze Obinnah, Alyssa Almond, Bailey, Bella Newberry, Bethany Trantham, Charlie Tomaskovic, Daniel Walton, David Dekhtyaryuk, Heather Baca, Kathryn Koff, Khilah Fouse, Lisa Brooks, Lomar, Mariah Santos, Miciah Lewis, Millie Tomaskovic, Ryan Vincent, Sarah McFarland, Taylor Urling, Zach Fouse, and potentially others that I cannot remember off the top of my head.

It was a really challenging group in that we had to do the following every week: serve at church during service, serve at evangelistic outreaches in the Denver area, memorize Scripture weekly, inductively study Scripture weekly, along with a number of other tasks that were required for this program. In retrospect, it was a high point in my spiritual growth as Andrew, with the aid of Joel Wheelersberg, instilled the truths of Judeo-Christianity into us and for some of us, it still remains with us 4 years later.

Later on, Joel went and started a new church plant called “Calvary Reach” in 2015. Around that time, Andrew left CCA to be the youth pastor at Calvary Chapel Westminister up north of where we were at in Aurora, Colorado. Even amidst all of this change, Andrew still kept in touch with all of us students to the best of his ability.

He would nag us on how we should workout with him or how we should visit him at his new church. Either way, he kept checking in on us and he still does to this day. This accountability and responsibility he took on is one of my favorite aspects that he has as both a mentor and a friend of mine. His constant desire to see the spiritually young in the faith mature is what makes him such a great leader for anyone that learns under him.

Andrew firmly believes in the idea of a church on the move. What I mean by that is inviting someone to hang out with you outside church doors throughout the week by sharing your hobby or trade with them. For instance, if you love to skateboard, then you would invite whoever it may be to hit the skate park with you and as you hang out, talk about stuff that really matters like God. It’s been his way to share the Gospel to people that don’t go to church or have been hurt by the hypocritical mentality found in the Western church. Like Jesus would do when He would minister one-on-one with people doing simple, everyday things like drawing water from a well (1) or simply having dinner together (2). It’s when sacred meets secular and it is a refreshingly powerful way of reaching out to a world that needs to see authenticity and consistency from Christians.

One way Andrew meets people where they are at is by inviting them to workout with him and do Strongman during the week. I started doing this sort of weightlifting with him in the Fall of 2014 and have been hooked on Strongman ever since. I remember when I walked into the “Colorado Pro Gym” for the first time and saw Mike Burke, a World’s Strongest Man competitor, training on Log Press as he dwarfed everyone around him. It was a little insane how big this guy was as he stood at 6’ 6” and weighed about 350lbs at that time. It was this encounter with one of the strongest men on the planet that inspired me to try out this sport. It was the fact that Strongman is so challenging, both mentally and physically, that really drew me into this small niche of athletics that I still train for even now.

Since then, I have trained on and off with Andrew and have done three Strongman competitions (i.e. Team Tom – May 2015, Iron Warrior Classic – December 2016, Team Tom – February 2017) in that span of time with my next competition in just a matter of months. What this type of discipleship also taught me was seeing people in their element outside of the social construct of “Sunday-Only Christians.” What it looks like to be a Christian in the world, but not apart of it. Watching as Andrew would stop everything to attend to the needs of his family or in-between sets asking how I’m doing and how he can help for me. Meeting people where they are at versus having people meet you where you’re at.

It’s a mode of discipleship that I’ve started to emulate as I now invite people I know to lift and minister to them all at once. Sometimes, seeing someone live like Christ says a lot more about if Christianity is really true, then a thousand sermons or a tirade of 140 character tweets.

Through the years, Andrew taught me how to simultaneously be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, yet physically strong as I equally impact eternity. Over the years, he has pushed me to think like Christ and to completely transform the way I see or think about my life. In fact, we still hang out, workout together from time-to-time, and even share a vision for a new form of church that we believe is the next move of the Spirit in the West. Thank you Andrew for being a mentor that made me a man. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!

Footnotes

  1. John 4:3-30
  2. Mark 2:14-17
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Mentors That Made Me A Man: Joel Wheelersburg

When I was in the 8th grade, I was really bored of the “tiptoe-deep” teaching that was present among most teachers that taught my age group and needed to move up to the high school youth group to keep growing spiritually. Because I was in 8th grade, but was held back and was the age of a freshman in high school, this caused a bit of a stir. For a week or two, my sister, Rachel Ruiz-Austin, tried to convince the high school leaders to allow me to jump ahead to the high school youth group and show them that I was mature enough to attend that youth service for the highschoolers.

Eventually, Joel Wheelersburg, who was the high school senior youth pastor at the time said yes and the rest is history. Yet, I met Joel Wheelersburg just a little earlier before I ever went to the youth group that he led. I actually met him on a bad note when I was sent by my Mom to go help him around the church as punishment for being disobedient at home.

Growing up, I didn’t usually get in that much trouble. This time it was serious and funnily enough, I don’t even remember what I did to deserve this unusual punishment. Regardless, I walked from my house to the church, which was a mile away, and met up with Joel who knew my Mom had sent me to clean around the church during a summer weekday. I only knew him as my older brother’s pastor, but now in that moment I knew him as the mean pastor because he had me do all sorts of maintenance.

We started out by mopping all the concrete floors on all three levels, then doing the stairs on the way down, which led to us cleaning the bathrooms, scrubbing toilets and all, before ending with us sweeping the parking lot as we also picked up trash outside. After that day, I wasn’t necessarily his biggest fan when I walked back home. From there, I would a few months later attend the youth group he led and regularly go with my two older siblings.

At first glance, Joel looks like a punk rocker that accidentally walked into a lumberjack convention in Ohio. With his flannel shirts, flat billed “HE>i” hats, Reformed-style beard, and his sleeves of sound-doctrine tattoos, Joel has always looked like a bit of everything. He also happens to be the second ethnically ambiguous mentor in my life, next to Kevin King of course. I’m still unsure if he’s Asian or not. Whatever. Moving on!

After a while, Joel asked if I would start serving in the youth group as the sound guy during worship before and after service. I reluctantly said yes and as I progressed through high school, I became more and more involved with the high school ministry. This involvement in the high school ministry would lead to a close-knit relationship we would have over the years that emulated that of family. Brothers in the LORD and friends in the faith.

This dynamic truly grew when Joel asked if he could personally disciple me and I said “yes,” which led to several years of true discipleship. We went through a lot of books during that time frame because that’s what Calvary Chapel people do: book clubs. We read Encounter: Face to Face With Jesus (2010) by Skip Heitzig, The Man That God Uses (2003) by Chuck Smith, Second (1996) by L. E. Romaine, Standing Up in a Fallen World (2004) by Chuck Smith, and others I can’t recall at the moment. Besides reading the literary works of the patron saints of the Calvary Chapel Movement, we also did a lot of community outreach together as I learned from his example. We would go door-to-door as we handed out flyers for upcoming events at our church, share the Gospel at skate parks or concerts we went to with the high school ministry, regularly cleaned around the church together, and I tried my best to emulate his godly example as I grew in spiritual maturity.

Joel would invite the highschoolers to his own house, along with other youth group kids as we did community groups for the high school ministry during the summer. It was here, in his own element, that I was always and still am impressed by how consistent he lives his life as a Christian pastor. From what I could tell when I would shadow him was that whether we were with his family in his home or out at a homeless shelter serving the needy in Denver, he always remained the same person. There was and is no facade to Joel as far as I know him. He genuinely was himself in every situation and that openness really stuck with me to be more authentic with everyone, everywhere I go. It’s simple, but just be you. Authenticity is one of his greatest attributes and it’s an attribute that this introvert wishes he had more of as I see such value in transparency.

Sometimes, this transparency showed the good and the bad of his character. I was there for his loving rebukes and his moments of defeat in ministry. Watching as he dealt with the ups and downs that are always present in youth ministry. If he was mad, he showed it and it was obvious. If he was happy, he showed it and it was obvious. Either way, he doesn’t pretend to be something he is not and that is a very underrated characteristic these days in a world full of distorted realities.

Joel will forever be a father in the faith that I can look up to and I think his other students would agree that he is a good guy all around. His passion for Christ and proper study of God’s Word is impeccable, so too is his love for sharing the Gospel with the outcasts of society. As Christians, we have to have both book smarts and street smarts. Although, most of us have either one or the other. We either have the book smarts and know why we believe or we have the street smarts and show what we believe. Joel is one of the few believers that perfectly balances these two scales in Christian living. He has both an intellectual grasp of his faith and in the same respect lives out practically a Christ-led life.

Above all, Joel lives a Christ-centered life and his influence on my life cannot be understated. He taught me essential leadership skills, as well as how to serve God in all that I do. Whether it’s allowing me to teach a sermon, which he did have me do, or asking me to take out the trash because it needed to get done. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “The leader leads and the boss drives” and Joel leads a life worth emulating. Thank you Joel for being a mentor that made me a man. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!

Mentors That Made Me A Man: Kevin King

Now that I have taken the time to write about my first mentor that guided me into manhood, it’s time to write about a constant mentor in my life that has now become a good friend of mine. This second mentor is Kevin King and as you can already tell, he loves coffee. But more than coffee and even his two kids, he loves the LORD.

When trying to remember when exactly Kevin and I met is hard to say, but I do know that it was about the same time when Dr. J became a mentor of mine. Growing up, some of us called him “California Kevman” since he’s native to California and is considered the spiritual uncle to most of the kids that grew up at “Calvary Chapel Aurora.” Usually, if Dr. J was planning an event with the 5th & 6th grade joint-class, chances were likely that the King family was going to be there.

A lot of those events that were planned were concerts. We went to a lot of them and saw dozens of musicians like The Whosoevers, Kutless, Fireflight, TFK, KJ-52, The Letter Black, Disciple, Lecrae, and a ton more through the years. Although, we always went and saw Skillet if they were in town because that was the favorite growing up. In fact, for one Skillet concert we waited hours outside in below freezing temperatures just to see them live.

As I progressed in age, Kevin would become not just my Dad’s friend, but my friend as well as we tend to have similar taste in film, comic books, and always memes. Whenever the latest nerdy film would arrive in theaters, we would gather the gang together and enjoy our favorite comic books come to life on the big screen. Kevin is also known around town as the most faithful Transformers fan you may ever meet in your life and also for his theological prowess that he learned mostly from being a self-taught student in apologetics. That in itself is an impressive feat for a guy who knows so much yet is so humble when you encounter him.

It was his influential mentoring that led to my love for apologetics as he was the one who introduced me to William Lane Craig and later on to the Judeo-Christian school of thought called Molinism, which I now have adhered to for a few years. Especially in my high school years, Kevin has been there when I have wrestled and been challenged with the toughest questions I have ever encountered in my faith with Christ. And he has done the same for all those kids that he has always been the spiritual uncle to as they matured into adulthood.

Through the years, some of our best memories were when we would gather around the dinner table at one of our friends or one of those students houses, and just talk about what was on our hearts. It could be funny, it could be uncomfortable, or even depressing, but nevertheless no stone was left unturned. Absolute honesty was poured out at those late talks through the night with some of our closest friends. It was those late nights that gave me some of the most spiritual insight into the world around me and strengthened the relationships of those I loved like family.

As a widower for several years now, Kevin has had the opportunity to be there for those who are hurting most as he can relate in a very real way to their suffering as he has suffered through the years as a single father whose children, Alex and Cassie, I grew up with in my upbringing. In another respect, he also knows the reality of isolation as he is both an apologetics man and a single father. If anyone knows anything about apologetics, it’s that the apologist is in absolute surrender to the truth and the worldview that they are defending. In contrast, they are surrounded by lukewarm churchgoers that just want sprinkles of reassuring lies to satisfy their sin cravings coated in outward “righteousness.”

It’s sickening to those who abide by the Word of God. Kevin and I are some of the few that strive to bring Judeo-Christianity back to the intellectual powerhouse that it once was during the Enlightenment era. Due to our passion for inconvenient truths, we stand isolated from the masses that just want to hear what feels good, instead of hearing what is the only good thing: God Himself.

Above all, Kevin has a vision to reach out to foreign countries and teach apologetics to pastors who are not educated enough to suit the needs of their local congregations. His zeal for the missions field is inspiring and uplifting to all who know him as a faithful brother in the LORD. He is huge on apologetic-evangelism, active service within the local church, and investing in the youth as we are the future of the church here on Earth.

I’m thankful for the impact he has had in my life both in helping course-correct me in personal devotion to God and instructing this systematic theologian in the making on how to be a coherent, yet caring Christian apologist. As he has repeatedly said to me over the years, “I believe God has put me in a position to train up the next William Lane Craig and I believe that Adam Brill (a mutual friend of ours) and you could be that guy.” So whether Adam, myself, or the both of us become the future of apologetics down the road, then I hope that Kevin realizes the great influence he has had on those he has met in his life. Those he has pointed right back to God when they came to him for answers to their puzzling questions.

Kevin, like other notable godly men of the past, is a man of prayer and this makes him an absolute sin-slayer as he can rightly divide the truth from the lies that creep in from every side. The lies that may turn one into a prodigal or even into an apostate are the very lies that Kevin cuts down with the truth of the Gospel and the Bible with the methodology of a well-skilled apologist. It’s kind of awesome just watching God use him to draw the thinker to belief and the believer to think. All in all, Thank you Kevin for being a mentor that made me a man. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!

Mentors That Made Me A Man: Dr. J

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!