Many of you know that our dear friend and elder Danny Lotz has gone to be with Jesus. It is indeed a time of greatly mixed emotions for me. On one hand I am in awe of the things Danny must be experiencing. We are talking about a man who truly lived Philippians 1:21.
For Danny to live was Christ, and die was gain. However, his gain is our loss.
I have heard Danny referred to as a Christian, a leader, a warrior, a teacher, a dentist, an encourager, the hatchet, a legend, an elder, and an athlete. He was a husband, father, grandfather, brother and son. To me, Danny was a friend.
When I moved to Raleigh NC, it was a city I barely knew and had never lived in. I did not know many people. Only God could have known that Danny would be my first friend in Raleigh. I remember meeting Danny during my first visit to NC after the Lord led Shanna and I to plant a church. A mutual friend (who assured me that he would have no interest in attending my church, but that he would help me learn about the spiritual climate of our city) introduced me to him.
We sat at a Cracker Barrel in Morrisville talking about the vision of Southbridge Fellowship, a church that would exist for one simple reason: to connect people to Jesus for life change. That was it. I told him that I had no interest in anything other than seeing lives transformed for eternity.
As we talked, Danny asked me what I thought the church would be like – what kind of music we would play, what I would wear, etc. I am positive I answered all those questions the exact opposite of what Danny would have liked. But, Danny believed in the vision. He was the first to believe in the vision. Before he ever heard me preach a sermon, before we had a place to meet, and before there was anything but a dream, Danny believed.
From that point on Danny and I were friends. He became the ultimate encourager and friend that I needed. God knew that Southbridge and I needed a Danny. There are many things to plan for when you plant a church. You can’t really plan for a Danny Lotz, but every church would be better if they had one.
Danny and I had different preferences in music and dress, but we had the commonality of the gospel, of wanting to see lives changed, and believing that if Jesus were lifted up people would be drawn to Him. That common desire was stronger than any differences.
Danny showed Christian maturity beyond merely his Bible knowledge and many life experiences in church. Danny could overcome the minors for what mattered most – Jesus.
I would often seek Danny’s advice when making big decisions at the church. He would guide me and share a story about some other pastor he knew (sometimes good, sometimes bad). When I did blow it, he was there to encourage some more. I remember one time saying something dumb in a sermon and sitting with Danny and the other elders a few days later. As I poured out my heart through tears, he was extending grace and telling the truth.
One of my favorite parts of our friendship was how much he loved to hear about people that had come to know Christ at our church or people that I was sharing Jesus with personally. He loved hearing about people trusting Christ as Savior or a luke-warm Christian getting serious about their faith.
When we would talk, I would tell him about the next message I was going to preach and he would ask about my kids, my health, and whether I was taking care of myself spiritually. He cared, like a friend does. I hope to have many stories to tell him the next time we talk.
The statement that I believe God has given me during this time is that during great loss, God gives opportunity for great growth. I believe God wants to use this loss in our lives as an opportunity to grow us to be more like the one Danny loved the most, Jesus.
Danny Lotz was an incredible Christian leader, an incredible athlete, an incredible warrior, an incredible teacher, an incredible encourager, an incredible elder, and an incredible family man. He was an incredible friend. For him, his death was a great gain because he gets to be with Jesus. For us, it is a temporary loss.
I can only imagine what he is doing right now.