Hommel throws a curve in on-target Chapel pitch
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
Brian Hommel and Tyler Keele have a lot in common.
They both were drafted by Major League Baseball teams, Hommel in the 21st round by the Milwaukee Brewers and Keele in the 15th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
They both were pitchers who got off to a good start in the minor leagues before falling short of one of the 750 spots available at that time on major league rosters.
Most importantly, they both work for Unlimited Potential, a group of former professional baseball players who seek to help other players follow Jesus.
That led to another commonality: They both were onstage Monday morning during Chapel at Grand Canyon University. (Here’s a slideshow.) This time, however, they were sharing their stories with college students.
Hommel, the Diamondbacks’ chaplain for nearly two decades, was the guest speaker but felt compelled by Jesus to make an impromptu call to the bullpen for Keele, who serves as chaplain for the D-backs’ minor league teams. Despite having no time to warm up and after emphasizing that he’s an introvert, Keele told an engaging story of his encounter with a homeless man who changed the trajectory of his life.
Both of their talks were designed to underscore Hommel’s central question for the GCU Arena audience: How many people know the depths of you?
Too many people, he said, wear invisible masks to conceal what is going on inside them.
“When we walk around in our life, we have this projected image of ourselves that we think will be accepted,” he said. “And so we put this image out there for others to reach in and gravitate toward.
“All the while, what we don’t realize is that it’s actually creating a barrier around our heart and around our lives, and we’re never really letting anyone in because of this projected image. Because if they know who we really are, they’re not going to embrace or accept us.”
There’s a lot of pain in those projected images. Hommel shared his story of how his awkward attempt at romance as a teenager left him sitting in a hotel room between the toilet and bathtub thinking that Jesus would want nothing to do with him because of the mistake he had made.
He subsequently tried to use his athleticism to earn the positive attention he craved but described his life as “a train wreck” as he lapsed into gambling and more promiscuity. His sister persuaded him to reach out to Jesus, and that’s when his life dramatically changed.
Hommel then called a surprised Keele to the stage to tell a similar lost-and-found story of how his drug-addicted father taught him how to “work a room, how to make sure that no one saw what was going on. … I was in so much pain, just really crying out for someone to seek me.”
As a result, Keele said, he internalized everything and got into things that only he knew of. Even though he was leading Bible studies, he still wanted someone to pursue him and hadn’t really let Jesus into his life.
That led to his encounter with a homeless man named Benaiah – same as David’s bodyguard in the Bible – on a riverbank in Missoula, Montana, the first stop in his minor league career. When he asked the man where he was from, the man replied, “I’m not from here. I’m from above.”
Keele didn’t know what to say but prayed that night that the man would be there again the next day. Sure enough, he was, and they talked for six hours.
“He spoke to me like I’ve never been spoken to before,” Keele said. “He pursued me like I’ve never been pursued before.”
He knew things that had happened in Keele’s life and at the end of the conversation told him, “Tyler, get to know the Savior you claim to follow. Quit sitting on the fence. He’s right there waiting for you. He’s sitting between the toilet and the tub.”
Two months later, Keele’s father died of a drug overdose.
“That would have been the storm that would have drowned me,” Keele said. “Instead, it was the storm that propelled my walk with Jesus. I wanted more of Him than I ever had before.”
Keele met Hommel at spring training right around then.
“He started pursuing me, and he’s still pursuing me, and now I’m up here because of his pursuit of me,” Keele said. “… It’s just crazy when you put your hope and your identity in Jesus, how you can walk up onstage like this and I can talk about it because I’m not scared about what you think, believe it or not, because I more care about what my Heavenly Father and Jesus thinks of me.”
Hommel, who is pursuing a master’s degree from GCU, wanted his listeners to understand how to break free, get rid of their invisible masks and live vulnerably with each other. He said there are three basic needs that all human beings have:
First, be convinced that we are loved without conditions. Psalm 32:1-2 reads:
Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.
Hommel thought God wanted nothing to do with him because of the things he had done in his life.
“God does not like that. He does not like that,” Hommel emphasized. “We need to know who He is and what He is like.” Psalm 34:6 describes what God will do:
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
He saved him out of all his troubles.
Second, Hommel said, we need to be convinced that we are important, worthwhile, capable and special.
“Your generation is an important generation,” he told the large crowd of students. “You are special. You have gifts. You have skills that God has given you. And He is rising you up and He wants you to partner with Him to fill the earth with His image and His glory.”
As it says in Zephaniah 3:17 …
The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in His love He will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”
Hommel’s third point: We need to be convinced that we are not alone to face life’s problems.
“Jesus said this before He went up into heaven: ‘I am with you always,’” Hommel said.
Philosophy’s “Big Three,” Hommel added, are:
- Who am I? (In other words, what is our identity?)
- Why am I here? (What is our purpose?)
- Where am I going? (What is our destiny?)
But philosophy has no answers for death. That’s where Jesus comes in.
“When you engage in Jesus, you understand your identity,” Hommel said. “He lays out a purpose for you.”
And where is Hommel going? He thought he would go to the major leagues as a pitcher and share the Gospel with hundreds of thousands of people. Instead, he found his purpose in his role as a chaplain thanks to what Jesus has done for him.
“Embrace Him, walk with Him,” Hommel said. “And the more you figure out who you are as you connect with Him, the freer you will be.”
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].
To hear the music of the Worship team and Brian Hommel’s talk in its entirety, click here.
The Gathering speaker (7 p.m. Tuesday, Antelope Gymnasium): David Lemus, Movement Church, Laguna Hills, California
Next Chapel speaker (11 a.m. Monday): John Talley, Roosevelt Community Church