Danny Lotz’s church was with him wherever he was

Leighton Ford
Leighton Ford

One of my seminary professors had a difficult student who always liked to argue. One day the professor claimed that we all break each of the Ten Commandments every day, in thought, word or deed.

“But prof,” objected this student, “how can I break the commandment about keeping the Sabbath day holy on Monday?”

Quick as a flash the professor shot back, “That commandment also says six days you shall labor, you lazy fellow!”

Over Labor Day weekend I recalled how God has made us to work, setting humans to care for the Earth and each other. I also remembered an August memorial service in Raleigh for Danny Lotz, a dentist who put his faith to work.

I don’t recall another memorial service that lasted nearly three hours and had 22 speakers!

When we arrived early, the parking lot was full and the church overflowing. That was not because Danny was famous, like his father-in-law Billy Graham, or his wife, Anne, a well-known Bible teacher. He did have an early moment of fame when he made key plays to help win UNC’s national championship basketball game in 1957. He was a respected dentist and a leader in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Yet his was hardly a household name.

What drew that crowd was the way he lived out his faith in his work and his family. And that’s why so many younger men he influenced came to pay tribute.

Clyde Christiansen, now a quarterbacks coach in the NFL, remembered arriving in Chapel Hill as a 19-year-old football recruit on a cold January day, not knowing a soul. “Danny met me,” he recalled, “took me into his family, made me learn a Bible verse every day, showed me what it means to be a father and a husband. I never wanted to be a preacher. I wanted to be a layman and serve the Lord in my calling. Danny showed me how.”

Another of Danny’s “sons in the faith” was a doctor friend, Rob Jones. Danny had been undergoing kidney dialysis three days a week for 10 years, and lately he and Rob would talk a lot about legacy, about fathers sharing their hearts with their kids. “During these last years he would get so tired,” Rob remembers, “but he always said that with his last breath he would love and serve the Lord, and tell about the gospel of grace until God took him home.”

“Whether he was pulling a tooth or fixing a cavity he used his practice to encourage someone or to share his faith,” Rob recalls. “I think of Danny as my flag bearer, like those pictures of a flag bearer on a horse, holding the standard high in the battle. It takes a lifetime to learn to live, and I learned from Danny.”

Perhaps his son in-law Steve expressed Danny’s legacy best. So choked up he could hardly speak, Steve spoke of Danny’s love for his family. “I think young people are leaving the church in droves because our walk doesn’t match our talk. But Danny’s did. And we want to be like him.”

Richard Halverson, the late chaplain of the U.S. Senate, often said, “If someone asks where your church is, the correct response is: what time is it? If it’s 11 a.m. Sunday your church is where you worship. If it’s 11 a.m. Monday the answer is: your church is where you work.”

Danny’s church was where he and Anne worshipped on Sunday. Or on Monday at his dentist’s chair. Or getting dialysis. Or having lunch to encourage a younger guy. Or having a heart-to-heart talk with one of his kids.

I wonder where your church is, and mine, today?

Danny’s brother Denton, himself a well-known theologian, had the last word. Danny, he said, was named after the biblical Daniel, who refused to renounce his faith and was thrown into the den of lions. He said, thinking of his brother’s strong faith, “I’d be more scared to be a lion in a den full of Dannys, than to be Daniel in a den of lions!”

Leighton Ford of Charlotte is a Presbyterian minister known internationally as preacher, writer and mentor.