After leaving my corporate career, I prayed to God many times, asking for positive male mentors and role models. On the surface, this desire probably sounds unnecessary at best and selfish at worst, as I personally have had more positive male role models than anyone I know. But in these prayers, I wasn’t asking for guys who could teach me to fish or ride a bike, I was looking for spiritual mentors.
As traditional church pastors are a dime a dozen and can be found at every church in every neighborhood, perhaps this prayer should have been easily answered. But I wasn’t looking for a stereotypical pastor. I didn’t want someone who was playing a role or getting paid to do a job. I wasn’t looking for someone who fit a mold or simply followed the rules. Instead, I was looking for a regular guy, with a regular job, that was doing all he could to love and serve people the way Jesus did.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many regular guys out there that fit this description. However, there are a plethora of stereotypical “Good Boy” church guys (aka Ned Flanders) that simply wanted to follow the rules and live a conservative life, along with more than enough “Alpha Male” church guys that wanted to condemn everyone and beat the gospel into them for their own good. But neither of these models worked for me as I believe they both completely miss Jesus’ example of how we are supposed to live and love others.
After a couple of years of praying and volunteering, I was pretty discouraged with the types of men that I was finding within the church. For the most part, they were either legalistic pharisees in search of power and influence or inauthentic posers who were pretending to be something they thought they were supposed to be. This left all the guys that were similar to me, just trying to do their best to follow the teachings of Jesus, on their own to fend off getting caught up in the condemnation and tribalism of the culture.
That is, until I met Spencer and Brock.
Spencer and Brock
Spencer is the Executive Director of a ministry in Costa Rica whose mission is to serve the people that live in the barrios of San Jose. Aside from his fancy “Executive Director” title, Spencer is as down to earth and authentic as they come. A veteran of the U.S. Special Forces, he didn’t graduate from a prestigious seminary and he has zero tolerance for anyone’s self- righteous attitude. Instead, he concerns himself with the business of loving people, be it a homeless drug addict or a Wall Street broker, and he especially loves kids.
After having dealt with so many stereotypical “nice guys” and “alpha males,” hanging out with Spencer was like a breath of fresh air. Strong enough to hold the respect of the barrio thugs and kind enough to entertain the toddlers, he was the embodiment of how I thought Jesus would want us to behave. He was an imperfect man that appreciated a cold beer and a Cuban cigar. He has tattoos on his forearms, a great big goatee, and a half-decent temper. But above all things, he desires to love his neighbor as himself.
For the first time in my life, I found someone who wasn’t trying to fit a church guy mold and instead, was just being who God had made him to be. Which led me to believe that if he could do it, why couldn’t I?
That’s when Spencer introduced me to Brock. Brock was a former high-profile sports agent (a la Jerry Maguire) who abandoned the corporate lifestyle and moved his young family to a mountain village in Guatemala to start a school and soccer academy for boys. Having both left corporate careers, Brock and I had a lot in common and his example made it even more evident that I didn’t have to fit into someone else’s mold for God to use me. For if God could use Brock, with his unique back story of personal failures and professional success, then God must be able to use me, too.
Brock, his wife Kerri, and their children were so wonderful that they were actually what first inspired Bonnie to seriously want kids. Prior to meeting them, she was on the fence about having kids and raising a family. But after seeing how loving and grounded their family was in service to others, her heart was changed forever.
As such, Bonnie and I began the process of following in Spencer and Brock’s footsteps and moving to Costa Rica to work with Spencer and his ministry full-time. We spent months fundraising and actually got to the point where we had moved all of our personal belongings into a storage unit and all that was left was to jump on a plane. But, apparently God had other plans. The financial support for our work in Costa Rica never fully materialized, so rather than moving to Costa Rica, Bonnie and I ended up moving back to Florida to start our lives anew.
Fortunately, through Brock and Spencer’s mentorship and example, we had learned enough to move forward and love the people in our local Florida community. To ensure that we never forget their model of strength and service, we named our first daughter after Spencer’s first daughter Alexis, who was directly cut from the same mold.
Over the next four years, Bonnie and I did our best to be regular people who strived to follow the teachings of Jesus and for the most part, we did ok. Unfortunately, we consistently ran into legalistic church characters that didn’t approve of our unregulated, laymen approach to the Gospel of Jesus. Though our hearts were in the right place, the politics of organized religion consistently discouraged us from simply living out our personal stories. Instead, they encouraged me to go to seminary and toe the legalistic party line of focusing the overwhelming majority of our time and resources towards serving and entertaining the people within the church walls, as opposed to having all the people in the church reach out and serve the greater community.
As this model was so different than what we experienced with our friends Spencer and Brock, we grew to feel like we just didn’t belong in the institution of the church. Had I not gotten a new job in Utah, I believe it was only a matter of time before we would have ended up leaving the church in Florida all together. But, we moved before that happened.
After sixteen years of traveling around the world, Bonnie and I surprisingly moved to my hometown of Layton, Utah. Since I had always vowed not to move back, I sincerely believed that this was all part of God’s plan, seeing as how it definitely wasn’t part of mine. One of the reasons I thought He might have us moving back was so that we could pour into the community where I grew up. So, after establishing ourselves and our family, I began to seek volunteer opportunities and that’s when I met Marcus.
Marcus is a self-employed handyman with a heart for the community, specifically at-risk youth. In his younger days, he served in official and unofficial capacities at different churches, but eventually settled on starting his own faith-based non-profit organization called the “Jesus Field,” literally out of his own backyard.
Complete with an indoor skate park, indoor and outdoor basketball courts, tennis court, fire pit, movie screen, pool table, ping pong table, outdoor swimming pool, video game consoles, snack bar, and stadium lights, Marcus and his family developed their backyard into a giant playground for their teenage youth group to hang out. Over the course of eighteen years, the group varied in size from 20 students to more than 150 students at its peak. In addition to weekly gatherings with scheduled activities, Marcus would open up the Jesus Field for kids to hang out at throughout the week and on weekends. On top of that, they would organize hiking, camping, boating, rafting, and snowboarding trips for the group as well.
After initially meeting Marcus and learning all about his work with the youth group, my first question was “Why?” and my second question was “How?”
Why would a regular guy that likes to golf, snowboard, drink beer, and hang with the fellas, convert his entire property into a playground for teenagers? He wasn’t paid a salary, he didn’t have a seminary degree in Youth Ministry, and he didn’t have the support staff of a YMCA? Yet, he was willing to dedicate countless hours every week, along with an extraordinary amount of his personal finances to create this space…
Why? “Because kids need somewhere to go.”
Through two years of volunteering with Marcus and the youth group, Bonnie and I were firsthand witnesses to the fact that God can work through all of us. Regardless of degrees, financial backing, or professional support, if we are willing to simply trust that God has a plan, despite Him not fully sharing it with us, then He will take care of the “how.”
Over the eighteen years that Marcus ran the Jesus Field, if just one teenager would have been positively impacted to the extent that they would have chosen a better life for themselves and their future families, then all of his hard work would have been justified. But that wasn’t the case. As opposed to impacting just one teenager, the Jesus Field had a positive impact on hundreds and hundreds of teenagers with many of them experiencing radical life change.
All because a regular guy decided to trust God and do what he could.
I met Jesse through his daughter who was also a volunteer at the Jesus Field. It all started because his daughter mentioned that her Dad ran a ministry in the park for homeless people every Sunday. As Bonnie and I had recently stopped attending a regular Sunday church service, we were actively seeking a way to serve on Sunday mornings. So, I got Jesse’s number and I sent him a text.
“Just come on by the park at 11 am this Sunday and you can see what we’re all about.” Jesse responded.
It was in the middle of August that first Sunday that I showed up to the park. At 11 am, the temperature was in the low nineties and the humidity was high (for Utah). As I walked over to the group of about thirty folks gathered under the large trees in the corner of the park behind city hall, I instantly spotted Jesse. Though we had never met, it would have been impossible for me to have missed him.
Among the group of humbly dressed, under-weight folks standing in the lunch line, Jesse stood out like a sore thumb. At over six feet tall and 250 pounds of muscle, Jesse is a mountain of a man who used to play college football and bench press 500+ pounds. Surprisingly though, his physical stature paled in comparison to his loving personality and boisterous laugh.
As I slowly approached, I got a chance to see Jesse in action: Walking down the line shaking hands, giving hugs, looking each person in the eye and telling each one that he loves them. I watched the eyes of each person he spoke to light up like a Christmas tree when he came to their place in line. Their expressions immediately transformed from blank stares to smiles of joy and appreciation.
“Do you know that God loves you?” Jesse would ask each person in line. “Do you know Jesus loves you?” he would continue. “Do you know I love you?!” he would say with even more passion in his voice.
“I love you, my brothers and sisters, and being here with you is the high point of my week! You all are some of the finest folks on planet earth!” he would shout as he would begin to address the crowd. After a short introduction, he invited everyone to join hands for a passionate prayer where he asked God to “lift up any hung down head and to remove any burden that he never ever asked us to bare.” Then he gave a short message of encouragement coupled with a scripture verse and ended with the phrase “like you’ve heard me say many, many times before: Good Meat, Good Bread, Good Lord, Let’s Eat!”
At that time, the small army of volunteers that came from a different church group each week would begin to serve the delicious homemade meals that they had prepared to the folks in line.
That was it. No strings attached, just a simple act of love to whoever was so inclined to receive it. Not just once, or twice, but every single Sunday without fail for the past five years. Whether it is 105 degrees in the middle of the summer, or it is 12 degrees with two feet of fresh snow in the winter, Jesse and his team of volunteers are there in the park, with food and a simple message of love.
After attending just one service in the park, I knew that Jesse was exactly the kind of guy that I needed to be associating with. So, for the past three years my family and I have been wholeheartedly serving with and supporting Jesse and his ministry every Sunday, rain or shine. In the beginning, I helped the ministry out with a bunch of marketing essentials like a logo, business cards, and a website. Eventually, I put together a short twelve-minute documentary on the work that Jesse has been doing in park, but most recently my family and I have simply been reliable attenders and supporters of Jesse and the ministry. I do little things like set up a mic and speaker for Jesse, as the crowd has grown from thirty attendees to upwards of 150 people, but mostly we just chat with folks, smile at everyone, and pass out handshakes and hugs to whoever is so inclined to receive one. My daughters even get in on the action, as their favorite part is to hold a stranger’s hand in the prayer circle. Just seeing the face of the other person light up when they see that my daughters aren’t afraid to hold hands with them is priceless.
Over these past three years, the most important lessons that I learned from Jesse have been the least complex in nature. Every Sunday when a different church group comes to volunteer, I watch as their Lead Pastor will come over to Jesse to introduce himself and comment on what a great service this is. Inevitably, the pastor will ask Jesse: “So Pastor Jesse, where exactly is your Church located?” To which Jesse will reply with an ear-to-ear grin: “Right here, underneath the trees, in between the sidewalk and the playground. This is the church!”
Without a fancy building, projection screens, laser light shows, or a full band, Jesse is able to share the love of Jesus with everyone he comes in contact with.
Proof vs Rationale
As I stated earlier, I cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that God exists. But when I witness the work that Spencer, Brock, Marcus, and Jesse do out of the overflow of their hearts, it serves as rationale that a Good God must exist. I can’t explain it any other way how regular, prideful, sinful men can do such extraordinary things.
Their sacrifice and generosity not only helps the people they seek to serve, but it inspires others to more boldly live out their own faith. While this might not be enough to convince any one of a higher power, it definitely makes me more inclined to believe so.
Posifocus Mantra #18
Super Heroes are Real.
Who do you know that has inspired you by the way that the live out their faith? What specific actions do they take that supports what they believe? What would your life look like if your actions were perfectly in line with your beliefs?
Put your time and/or money where your faith is. Identify a group or charity you share the same values and beliefs with and find a way to support their efforts.
Join the Posifocus Group and share your thoughts and experiences with the Posifocus Community! Use the hashtag #faithinaction.