For those of you reading Live Loved Free Full, on November 30, you read an exchange I had with Dave Coleman that graciously changed the trajectory of my life. Dave passed from this life and began the incredible journey for which we are all destined on that same morning. I love the way Father does stuff like that. It just seemed another wink from him and his joy in the relationship we shared together. I will miss him more than I can say here even as he delights in face-to-face communion with Father, Son, and Spirit.
Dave Coleman was the wisest man I’ve ever known, not in spouting of platitudes or presenting spell-binding lectures. With a mere sentence or a provocative question, Dave could cut through a situation and reduce it to the simple choices I faced inside of it. He gave of it freely to anyone who would seek him out and he enriched the lives of so many who would come by his home and revel in his wisdom. Dave would always point down the road that leads to life without ever pressuring anyone to believe him or take it. He was gracious and loving even when people didn’t see things the way he did. He didn’t just talk about love; he lived it in his kindness, his wisdom, and in his graciousness. He pastored a Lutheran church for awhile, volunteered as a hospice chaplain and taught the life of Jesus at rehab centers.
He was my closest friend over the last thirty years, walking me through conflicts and betrayals I endured as well as affirming and celebrating what God was revealing to me. I wouldn’t be doing anything I’m doing in the world today without this man’s influence and kindness to me.
Of all the men and women I have met, this is one of God’s most authentic followers. Was I walked away from our first meeting, these words penetrated my thoughts, “This is one in whom there is no guile.” That’s what Jesus said about Nathanael in John 1. Having known him for thirty-plus years, I can tell you how true that was. He was authentic to the core and never sought to exploit someone for his own gain. He rarely occupied the limelight and was often despised by those who could not manipulate him to their ends or control the life and grace that flowed from his tongue and heart. He and his wife, Donna, have known betrayal as well as the tragic loss of two of their children—one in a tragic accident and one to leukemia. Rather than grow bitter from these things, they grew more tender and compassionate for others in need.
He was a second dad to me in this season of my life. Whenever Sara and I had couldn’t resolve complications in our marriage, how to raise our children, negotiate conflicts with friends or family, he and Donna were there to comfort us and help us see down better roads. And he was always a cheerleader for the work of unfolding grace in my heart, especially when others would lie about me or seek to deter me from Jesus’s leading.
Once, while I was still pastoring, I offered him an opportunity to be an elder in our congregation and the possibility of a full-time position. I thought I was offering him the moon. I was shocked when he declined it immediately. Asking him to explain. “I really can’t,” he said. “But someday, you’ll know.” Fifteen years later, when offered an elder position in a local fellowship that I found myself declining, I had to smile when I remembered his words. Yes, I get it now.
He was the first to tell me that most human love is merely the mutual accommodation of self-need. People will “love” you only as long as you give them what they want. When you can’t or won’t, they will cut you off. Jesus taught us love is not about getting what we want from others but having affection enough for them to lay down of our lives for their benefit, without thought of what it will cost us.
Dave was my coauthor of So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore, and the one who came up with that provocative title. Soon, I’m going to read that book for the first time soon to relive the experience of writing it with him. That November 30 entry in Live Loved Free Full, is about the time Dave dropped this bomb in my heart: “I’ve learned that whenever my personal well-being is hinged on the response of another person, I will manipulate them.”
I knew that was radioactive when I first heard it. Dave was talking about a sermon I had preached, but I knew if I let that truth into my heart, it would change everything about how I treat Sara, my children, family, friends, and anyone I would meet. That reality is still changing me, and the freedom of learning to anchor my well-being in Christ alone set me increasingly free to love others.
If you’ve been touched by anything God has done through my life, you can be grateful to God that he put this man in m life. Certainly, God has reached out to me through others, but no one has had a more profound impact on the trajectory of my journey.
It delights me to know he is at rest after suffering a long health decline. I look forward to the day when we will sit again in the coming kingdom and celebrate all the grace that we both experienced at the hand of our God and Father. My heart goes out to his family, who will miss him far more than I will. May God’s comfort eventually turn all their grief into the joy of having known this man and been enriched by his time on this planet.
If you want to partake of some of Dave’s wisdom in his seven appearances on The God Journey podcast. You can find those episodes in our Guest Archive. Especially appropriate might by his reflections on death that we recorded nine years ago. I talked to him a few days before his death, I can assure you that he lived to the end everything he believed and stared down death at rest in the Father’s care.