October 24, 2017

The Forever Frontier

Publisher’s note: Today marks one year since the death of Michael Spencer. Michael was the founder of the Internet Monk, but more than that, he was the husband of Denise and the father of Clay and Noel. This is a remembrance of Michael’s life and passion by Denise. We ask that you pray for Denise at this time, the one year anniversary of her husband’s death.

In cleaning out the shed recently, I came across an old suitcase. Inside the suitcase were several items from long past, including this photo of Michael (on the right) and his boyhood friend, Jeff (no, not Dunn). Their common passion was playing Daniel Boone, and they are depicted here in all their imaginative glory. You might think, by virtue of the fact that Michael’s wearing the hat, that he was the leader. Ah, sadly, no. Michael complained into his middle-aged years that Jeff always had to be Daniel Boone. Michael, it seems, was relegated to the part of “Yadkin,” I believe it was. It seems that Yadkin was Daniel’s sidekick…or second cousin thrice removed…or something. Whoever Yadkin was, he wasn’t “Dan’l,” and Michael always felt a bit cheated.

Yet play they did, in their coonskin caps and buckskin jackets, armed with long rifles and powderhorns. The old neighborhood became the wilderness in their fantasies, and they took on any danger that came their way. It was high adventure, to hear Michael tell it.

“Adventurous” is most likely not a word that would jump to mind if you knew Michael, but in his heart of hearts he was. He followed the space program and watched the news coverage of rocket launches, space walks and shuttle landings. He also loved all those make-believe space adventures: Star Trek, Star Wars and other star-spun stories. It makes sense, doesn’t it? “Space: the final frontier,” began the Star Trek episodes. Outer space was the perfect playground for a grown-up “Booner” of days gone by.

In real life, however, Michael generally played it safe. He had almost drowned at age 12, and wouldn’t go near a swimming pool because of it. Once or twice when he served as a youth minister he went spelunking with some teenage guys, but that was about the extent of his grownup quests. He didn’t go rock climbing or skydiving or any such thing. Instead, Michael’s adult adventures were of the intellectual variety. He explored religion and philosophy, doctrines and ideas. He was an avid reader, and his choices were seldom fiction.

I don’t know much about Daniel Boone, but the man did a lot of different things. He was both a trailblazer and a settler. He fought Native Americans, yet was adopted by the Shawnee. He served in the Virginia General Assembly, and later became a surveyor and merchant. Did he have a restless spirit? I’d bet “yes,” at least somewhat.

Michael, too, was a man of many interests. He kept that early love of history through the years. He enjoyed a wide variety of music. He watched all sorts of movies. If you knew him at all, then you know he loved baseball and food, including baseball food.

Was he restless? I’d say “yes,” at least somewhat. Michael was given to different phases, fads and hobbies, and the kids and I often got caught up in them as well. Perhaps the most memorable was The Wrestling Phase. I don’t even know how it started, but “Mankind,” “Edge,” “Triple H” and “The Rock” became household names. We watched these guys faithfully every Monday night. We invited friends over for “Wrestlemania” pay-per-views. I halfway thought my husband had lost his mind, but hey! It was fun, and great bonding time with the kids. Eventually The Wrestling Phase ended as mysteriously as it began and Michael found something else to occupy his recreational time.

He was also a man who was not afraid to question his beliefs and to occasionally change his political or doctrinal position, again usually taking me along for the ride. I sometimes complained that he stayed in a phase just long enough to win me over before switching loyalties. About the time Michael turned me into a Democrat he began listening to Rush Limbaugh. When I at last followed him into Calvinism he started finding fault with some of those doctrines. And so it went. At least he kept life interesting.

Throughout his entire adult life, though, Michael had one gift that never changed. He loved to preach and was an extremely gifted preacher. Very closely related were his gifts of writing and teaching. But it was his love for preaching that burned in his heart. Michael had grown up under the preaching of his uncle, Rev. W. O. Spencer, whom he greatly looked up to. Saved at age 15, Michael was called to preach at age 17. At least that’s how he interpreted the call. Today he would more likely feel called to the ministry in a broader sense. But back then in that Southern Baptist culture, a fellow called to the ministry was “called to preach.” Pastors weren’t called “Pastor So-And-So,” but “Preacher.” So young preacher-boy Michael set off to blaze his trail as a pastor, little knowing that God had something different in mind.

That something different was youth ministry. Michael was great with teenagers, and they loved him. Yet his frustration grew as years rolled on and instead of pastoring, God led him from one youth ministry position to another. Finally he pastored one church before being called to become a campus minister. At last he had a ministry that seemed tailor-made just for him. He could preach to his heart’s content, and his primary audience was young people.

I will tell you a secret. At times Michael struggled with the concept of success. Remember Yadkin? Grownup Michael still wanted to be Daniel Boone. He sometimes looked at pastors of big city churches driving luxury cars and wearing suits and wondered where he’d missed the boat. I hated it when those feelings overtook him, because I could see what a huge success he was in the Kingdom — in God’s Kingdom, and success by God’s standards. For some reason the Lord kept us in humble circumstances while always meeting our needs.

Though Michael loved his opportunity to preach and teach and touch the lives of teens, it wasn’t too long before that restlessness set in again, coupled with the desire to preach to adults. Several stints as interim pastor brought him a level of satisfaction, but still he longed for more. So Michael began to write. That’s where most of you enter the picture. You knew and loved him as the Internet Monk. Thank you for being his audience, his online congregation. He needed you, you needed him and it was a good match.

As I have slowly gone through Michael’s belongings I have repeatedly found little folded pieces of paper in books and pockets. Only occasionally might one be a grocery list. They are almost always jottings of sermon notes or lesson plans. Preaching, teaching and communicating about God — these are the gifts that most defined Michael. He seldom went anywhere without one of his beloved Moleskines® and a pen. The ideas were always flowing, and he needed to put them to paper when they surfaced.

Sometimes I stand alone holding one of those crumpled notes and ask God, “Why? This was his life! All he wanted to do was tell people about You! So why couldn’t he stay here longer?” It is ironic that Michael died just when he was, perhaps, about to finally move up the ladder of success. A highly popular web site, his first book nearly in print…maybe he could at last play the part of Daniel. But like Yadkin, it seemed Michael could only rise so high.

And he has now set out on the greatest exploit of his life. For once, I cannot follow. Sometimes I want to search for him, and it seems he should be close by. Is he right over yonder mountain? Or maybe just past that bright star?

One thing I’m sure of: Michael has crossed the final frontier. And this adventure will last forever.

Comments

  1. Sharon Waters says:

    Man, oh man.

    Thank you, Denise.

  2. Denise-

    Thank you. Though I never had the chance to meet him in person, Michael was a mentor and role model for me. He walked the Way of the Cross with humility and love, and I can only hope to emulate him as I attempt to walk the same old trod path.

    My heart and prayers go out to you and yours.