On a week that our nation honors the death of its 41st President, George H.W. Bush, a smaller community made up of thousands of people from around the globe is celebrating the life of their long-time pastor, friend, and Bishop, Nathaniel Holcomb of Killeen, Texas. I write this as a report, but more particularly as a personal reflection. I, like many, have personally been affected by Bishop Holcomb’s life and legacy for over 3o years. Our loss is not one of tragedy, but of triumph and hope.
For that reason, the many memories and ways he touched my life obstructs my ability to use and find the proper words to honor what Bishop Holcomb meant to so many people around the world. I’ve been encouraged and amazed by the saints who’ve taken to their social media accounts to share memories and eloquently speak of the impact Bishop made on their lives. This beautiful song was even made by a friend in the waning days of Bishop’s passing.
But I’ve found it hard to reduce his impact of almost 30 years to a social media post (and by no means do I believe that has been anyone’s intention). For me, it’s hard to honor a man with mere words when his life spoke volumes of God’s love and grace. What words do you use to adequately describe a person who has been used by God as a vital instrument in your salvation and spiritual well-being? How do you summarize their life when it was continually marked by love, faith, and hope, and is continuing to do so? How do you describe a man after God’s heart? As I’ve been remembering and reflecting, I think the best way to answer these questions is to look beyond the man, Nathaniel Holcomb, and look to the one in whom we live, move, and have our being (Acts 17:28). But in doing so, I think it honors The Lord to look at His servant’s life as an example of how we use our lives to point beyond ourselves.
Bishop Holcomb was something. He exemplified and practiced true manhood, personhood, and leadership. He spoke in eloquent and angelic languages; prophesied and understood mysteries and was knowledgeable; had faith that could move mountains and was a faithful servant; he donated his goods and helped create charities to feed and house the poor. But these are not reasons why Bishop was something. He was something and someone of significance because he loved (1 Corinthians 13:1—3).
When I was nothing, Bishop showed me a better way to be someone and something of significance (1 Corinthians 12:31). When I left the Christian House of Prayer for college, God began shaping my faith into something more concrete. This was Bishop’s prayer for all the children who grew up in CHOP. In that faith formation, however, I found myself at odds on a few theological issues that Bishop taught. In my youth and foolishness, I made those few issues points of contingency and reasons to distance myself from the ministry. I developed a desire to understand more mysteries and gain more knowledge and grow rich in faith at the expense of relationships—friendships and mentorships that God used to mold me into the young man I was growing into. I was more obsessed with being “correct” in arguments than I was about walking in wisdom and love.
Still, God used Bishop to show me a better way. Never once did Bishop Holcomb chastise nor condemn me. He, along with many others, prayed for and pursued me with the love of God. He always checked in on me. He wanted me to call him. I still regret not calling him. Still he loved me with the love of The Lord.
“Timothy!” I can still hear echoes of his raspy, yet ever-so genuine voice. “How ya doin’ son? Oh, I miss you son. Bless you,” I remember him embracing me with a fatherly hug and kiss on the forehead, as if he was personally waiting on my return to his presence. But this is who Bishop was with everyone he encountered, no matter if he’d just seen you yesterday or hadn’t seen you in years. His gift to love is what elevated his ministry. And what better way to love than by pointing people to Jesus?
— Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:7)
By the grace of God, Bishop’s life and ministry was not marred by scandal nor corruption. But he was by no means a perfect man, and he would not want anyone to think that he was. This is not a jab at his legacy, but a mark of his humility. Bishop’s primary focus was not to get people to elevate him nor get as close as possible to himself, but to draw people as close as possible to God, as he’d often say himself. He never insisted on his own way, but always on God’s way of love, even if it came at the expense of his reputation.
One Sunday morning, Bishop and his wife, Pastor Valerie, got into an argument on the way to church (as almost every couple has experienced at least once in their marriage). Rather than concealing his wrongs and apologizing after the service in secret to his wife, in a very public display of meekness, Bishop acknowledged his wrong and asked his wife for forgiveness in front of the congregation before he preached his message. Displays of humility like this came as natural as breathing for him, because, like John the Baptist, he knew he must decrease so that the Lord Jesus Christ may increase in his life. It was all about him, Jesus, for Bishop Holcomb. As he resides with The Lord now, it remains All About Him. Bishop was only a vessel that God shone his light through to the rest of the world.
Of all Bishop’s imperfections and shortcomings, one fact remained constant: he desired for everyone to know and be in communion with Jesus. He wanted everyone to see Jesus by the way he lived his life, by the way he loved you, and by the way he preached his messages. There could not be any mistake that the driving force of his ministry was Jesus and the salvation God offers to his children through the sacrifice and life of his son Yeshua.
Sometimes my picture of what a “full” life looks like is different than how God defines it in a biblical sense. Vacations, nice things, respect, and accomplishments are good markers of God’s grace, but they are not the key indicators of a legacy marked by faith and discipleship. When talking to my father-in-law about the man Bishop was to me and many other people, he reminded me that a full life isn’t marked by extended years on this earth, nor any of the aforementioned graces of God. A full life is a life that fulfills the purposes of God. When God uses humanity to carry out His will and draw whoever to Himself through whomever He chooses, that life can be assuredly marked as full.
Bishop’s death and promotion into the presence of The Lord is a sobering reminder of the urgency saints must have to extend the love of God to people everywhere we go. Jesus said that the world will know we are his disciples because our lives will be marked by love. (John 14) He did not merely suggest we leave a legacy of love, indeed Jesus commanded it (John 14:17). This command is not easy. Jesus said we might be hated by the world on account of this command. But in the end, the hurt we bear from rejection will pale in comparison to the loving and accepting arms of the Father.
The legacy Bishop Holcomb left all of us is the continuing mission of God, pointing the world to its one true hope: Jesus. Though we are saddened by the loss of a friend, mentor, father, leader, and trailblazer, we can ambitiously press forward in a world of darkness. And by the grace and power of God, we will, to the glory of God.
There’s much more I could say, and if you knew Bishop I’m sure there’s much more you can add to this. For now, I leave you with words Bishop sang to us regularly—a song originally sung by Babbie Mason—for our benediction when I was at the Christian House of Prayer:
May the grace of God surround you/
May His light direct your path/
May His Spirit lead and guide you/
As the weeks and months go past/
May your soul be blessed, and may your joy be full/
Of the love that His light brings/
As you obey His call, remember most of all/
That you’re a child, of the King/
And may the Peace of The Lord, go with you/
The Peace of The Lord, go with you/
May His Spirit rest within you, to comfort and befriend you/
He’s right beside you, to constantly remind you/
That you’re a child, of the King