Douglas Coe died on February 22nd, 2017, surrounded by loved ones and passing into the next world while participating an overwhelming worship service. The incredibly influential Christian leader Douglas Coe was named one of the 25 most influential Evangelicals by Time Magazine in 2005. However, this article will take a more personal perspective: the legacy of Doug Coe in the life of a friend.
There is no way for me, Tim Timmons, to cover the life and times of Doug Coe adequately. Now that he has passed on to be with Jesus, many will add their stories to the collection. This article is an attempt to express my relatively brief (over three decades) and intense experience and friendship with Doug Coe, a uniquely anointed man of God.
The first time I ever heard Doug Coe’s name was from my friend, Bill Bright, Founder of Campus Crusade, another uniquely anointed man of God. I was on the staff of what is now known as CRU. Bill asked if I would be willing to take a team to Washington DC to pave the way for establishing the Embassy. That was an exciting assignment to me. Bill said there is only one condition I feel I must place on you. I want you to sign an agreement that you will not meet with Doug Coe or Dick Halverson for nine months.
He explained, “These two men are very good men and friends of mine, however the last two men I’ve sent on this assignment have left our staff in the middle of the year and I can’t afford for this to happen again.” I agreed. (By the way, at the end of the nine months, I met with Dick Halverson for a breakfast that extended through lunch. Three months later, I resigned from Campus Crusade. So, Bill was right!)
Although I didn’t join the International Fellowship, I did have several encounters with them through speaking at Fourth Presbyterian Church of Bethesda, MD, and at the National Prayer Breakfast activities. Every encounter was so simple and purely about Jesus. My soul resonated with this Jesus they so freely shared. I felt Doug, Dick, and Michael Timmis had a freshness about their relationship with Jesus that I longed to have. They spoke as if they just had breakfast with Jesus that morning, like they knew Jesus more personally than I had ever experienced. I wanted that!
Doug: “He doesn’t get it!”
I’ve known Doug and Jan Coe for 37 years, even before there was a Cedars, I stayed with them a few nights in DC. For 32 years, Doug has been a direct mentor to me and affected my life by introducing me to a more personal relationship with Jesus and asking the most penetrating questions ever posed to me. We’ve traveled the world, logged many hours of discussion, both live and on the phone. One of the great disappointments Doug experienced was that he felt like very few were really getting his message. We spent hours meeting with several hundred people from all over the world, mostly at the Cedars. After most of them left the room, Doug would say to me, “He doesn’t get it!” At first, it was shocking to me, then after Jesus apprehended my heart 13 years ago, it became crystal clear. He often said to me, “Most of my friends have become parrots who can chirp back what they know I want to hear as the answer to my questions, but they don’t really get it.”
Jan Coe also knew how deep Doug’s concerns were about people not getting it, not being able to articulate the Jesus message he has taught so many. Several years ago, Jan was one of the first to read the 1st edition of my book, Jesus Plus Nothing. She read it at the Associates Gathering in Williamsburg. She shared her enthusiastic response to me in front of Doug. Later, Jan said that she told Doug one night, “Doug, you can die now, because Tim “gets it” and has written it down.” She shared this with Diana and then a couple of days later, Doug laughingly shared this same story with me.
There were several amazing reflections of Doug from both young and old at his Memorial Service at McLean Bible Church in Vienna, Virginia, on Friday, March 3, 2017. Every person in the audience had a most memorable story of Doug to share. One of Doug’s closest friends, Fred Heyn, gave a powerful reflection and closed with a song that he emotionally sang from his heart. It was very moving! The most powerful reflections came from eight of Doug & Jan’s grandchildren. They shared their reflections on what their grandfather taught and meant to them. If I could speak with Doug, I would assure him, “Doug, be encouraged, they get it!”
Through the passionate hearts of the grandkids, I believe several thousand heard more clearly than Doug could ever tell it or anyone could ever write it: “Jesus plus nothing is the way to live, the way to see others and the way to see your purpose for the world.” It was most powerful! Millennials get it!
Like Sipping Water from a Fire Hose
Doug Coe usually led with a question and continued firing questions, until you either came close to the answer he was seeking or he realized there is no chance you’re going to get any time today. Then, he shared his thoughts on how he saw it and used questions to lead you to the answer. The entire experience was affectionately known as “sipping water from a fire hose”.
Each question was penetrating to the mind and the heart. And, each one stirred up more conversation and I always learned something new with every one of them.
– When were the disciples born again? I learned that the early disciples followed in the steps of Jesus without believing He was the son of God or even the Messiah. After following Jesus, it was then that the Father revealed to them that Jesus was God’s Messiah, the Son of the Living God. This revelation can’t be taught by humans, only caught from God, Himself.
– What is the gospel? When this question is asked, there are several answers. To understand that the Gospel is simply Jesus is an explosive and freeing thought.
– What is the finished work of Jesus? We normally assume the finished work of Jesus is His death on the cross. To understand what Jesus said, “I have finished the work you gave me to do, Father” is a most freeing teaching of Jesus. Jesus had been faithful to teach the 12 disciples God sent His way. He lost one, but His work was complete.
– What if I said Paul was a Christian before he met Jesus? Paul was a fanatic follower of the Christ, a Christian, THEN Jesus met him on the Road to Damascus and introduced Himself to Paul. He didn’t say, “I am Jesus Christ” or “I am the Christ”; He said, “I am Jesus.” This is exactly what happened to me. I was a Christian before I met Jesus.
When Doug called me, he always asked, “What are you doing?” And, we were off! Here are two such calls that were very meaningful to me.
– Doug: What are you doing?
– Me: “I’m sitting in our living room talking with Diana and Jason (son-in-law).”
– Doug: “Is that the Jason who is uneducated and ordinary, the Jason Jesus would pick out of a crowd and ask him to follow him?
– Me: “Yes, that’s the Jason!”
– Doug: “Is this the Jason who has a father-in-law who is highly educated and would have probably been passed over by Jesus, because he knew too much? Is that the Jason you are referring to?
– Me: “Yes, Doug that’s exactly the Jason I’m talking about!”
LESSON? Jesus chose uneducated, ordinary men to be His followers and leaders.
– Doug: What are you doing?
– Me: “I’m working hard on making my website more relatable to Muslims.”
– Doug: “Why would you want to do that?”
– Me: “Well, I’ve seen there are several Muslims visiting my site.”
– Doug: “Isn’t your website primarily about Jesus and His teachings?”
– Me: “Yes, exclusively! D-Isn’t Jesus relevant to Muslims?
– Me: “Yes.”
– Doug: “Is there any way to make Jesus more relevant to Muslims?”
– Me: “No! Not really.”
– Doug: “So, what are you going to be doing the rest of your day?
– Me: “I’m not sure what I’m going to do with my free time!”
LESSON? Jesus alone is enough and doesn’t need anything else!
The day I first introduced Diana to Doug, Doug was in rare form. He was so affirming to Diana, saying he had been praying for her for a long time, way before she and I ever met. After quizzing me on several issues, Doug moved into one of his most common thoughts he loved to share. He explained that there are two images that picture best our roles in the world. One is the light. “You don’t have to urge bugs to gather around the light. Bugs will show up naturally. They are attracted to it. This is how we are to be in the world, as Jesus directed.” We are to live our lives with attraction and not promotion. The other is a fountain. “You never have to take the fountain to the people. People naturally come to the fountain. It’s beautiful and refreshing.” Again, there is no promotion needed.
After our discussion, Doug quickly stood up and said he had to leave for another appointment on Capitol Hill. Quick hugs and agreement that we will be together from that day forward, Doug disappeared. As soon as we entered the taxi, Diana said, “What just happened?” I said, “I’m not sure, but I have a feeling our lives are going to radically change.”
Our lives were drastically changed and we’ve never turned aside from that day. The primary change for us is that we are now stubborn followers of Jesus no matter what, advancing the conversation of Jesus! We thank God for giving us such a friend as Doug Coe.