Men who put Skin on Jesus: David Luce

David, right, pictured with another friend enjoying a pudding.

If you searched my posts for “David Luce,” you’d find many mentions of him. At 19 while a student in London, I met Rev. David Luce who then lived with his wife and three children (Philippa 17 and Joe and Carey, twins, age 9) in North London and pastored Muswell Hill Baptist Church. I’d wandered into that church one Sunday morning and was embraced like the prodigal returned. After leaving London, David and I corresponded across the pond for years. I filled my aerogram letters with news alongside of the questions, fears, doubts and my own growing up journey. He responded with so much love and care for me. His letters were filled with encouragement and hope. His life verse must be Nehemiah 8:10, for he quoted it frequently,

“Remember, Brian, ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength.'”

Certainly, David has lived this himself. To be around David, is to encounter joy, his love for the Lord, his resolute faith and hope in his life and heart. He grew up a Methodist on the Island of Jersey, one of the Channel Islands, under German occupation during WWII. His dad played the organ in that Methodist Church for over 60 years. David grew up immersed in the faith and in Methodist hymnody. Then, after finishing at Victoria College on Jersey, a school for students 10 to 18 years of age, he went to the Baptist College in London and entered into the Baptist pastorate in 1955.

After 12 years of correspondence, David took a several-month sabbatical at Regent College in British Columbia, Canada, and planned in a two-week visit with us at the end.

On April 18, 1990, I wrote in my journal: “David comes today. I am nervous and excited. It will be wonderful to see him. Lord, grant us what we need as he comes. Help David be uplifted in your care as he travels here. I ask you to grant him joy and peace. Grant an easy departure from BC and allow him opportunities to share your joy and life as he travels. Lord, I release his visit to you and ask you to do a work in it to reach into David’s life – strengthen, heal and love him in a very real way. Allow David to be comforted in his grief.”  

David was experiencing grief. One of his sons, Joe, had died suddenly, in December 1989, just a month before David was to leave for his sabbatical. David had nearly cancelled his trip. But at the encouragement of family and friends, came.

Karen was nervous about this friend of mine coming to stay with our family for two weeks that April. She had only met David one time while a student in London, and although I shared his letters, he was really my friend at this point. She didn’t know what she was going to do with him when I was at work. I was unclear how much time I could take off.

I drove to LAX from San Jacinto to meet David’s plane and drive him back home. It was a four-hour oneway trip back with traffic, so we had a great time talking. I remember covering every subject imaginable in the easy, free flow of conversation. David met my every struggle with a love which embraced and upheld me.  

We arrived just as Karen was serving dinner to the kids. This was before we had cell phones so she really had no idea when he and I would arrive. She had made “breakfast for dinner” that night, pancakes, bacon, eggs, fruit, etc. I introduced David again to Karen, to 5-year-old Anna, 2.5-year-old Grace and to Susanna, then 6 months old, who took no notice of him.

We went into the kitchen, and he immediately sat down in the kid’s chair opposite Anna at the kid’s table and received a plate of pancakes and fruit on his lap and began to eat, laugh and talk. This beginning removed all stress from Karen about the visit. Any 56 year old man who could immediately connect with kids and sit with them and eat in such a makeshift style, won her heart.  That night we stayed up late talking with him.

The next morning, I journaled,

“David is a gem. I remembered how wonderful he was, but had forgotten how truly tremendous. Such a great man! Such a saint of God! So real and down to earth. He and I went visiting yesterday and had such a rich time. He is genuine, richly genuine. Lord, I ask you to heal me through this visit with him. Help me to learn through David how to be others focused. Help me to ‘delight myself in You for then you will give me the desires of my heart.’ David laughs at life and enjoys it. I want to learn to do so. Teach me, Holy Lord. Teach me to be so focused on you! Teach me to really laugh at life. Yesterday I went to work at church in the morning, the family came with David for lunch with me there, and then they went off to see the orange groves while I had appointments. The best guest is a friend who becomes a part of the family! How delicious is this time! How beautiful and wonderful. How near are you, Lord!”  

After that visit, David was not just my friend but a friend of our family’s.

In 1998, our whole family, then six of us with our four daughters, took a vacation in Torquay to stay with David and reconnect with his daughter, Phil, son-in-law Hugh, and their two children Emma and Roger. David and Hugh met us at the airport in two cars and drove us the many-hour trip back to Torquay. After many days, I rented a car and traveled with my family for another week to various parts of England. David met us several times and became our local guide. During this visit, the kids started calling David “Pops,” the name his family called him.

In 2004 after I had my appendix removed, recovery was slow. I did not really allow rest. David called on my March birthday and said, “How about you come over and visit for a couple weeks? It sounds like a break is in order.” When I objected that I didn’t have the money to afford it at that time, he countered, “Oh, Brian, I am offering to pay. I have plenty and would love to share it.” Tears sprang to my eyes.

And I went for two glorious weeks after Easter. Then, our whole family was able to go for the 50th celebration of David’s ordination in November 2005. And so it was, again and again, either through visits of David and some of his extended family here or through me or members of our family traveling there, we were able to grow this friendship over the years extending to David’s children, grandchildren, and now great grandchildren. Beginning May, 2020, since in-person visits stopped with the pandemic, we began to speak weekly by zoom.

Back to the visit in 1990. One night we talked about living within the gifting you have been given. David said he knew his was not the gifting needed to lead a church the size of Upton Vale in Torquay. He was on staff in a supportive role and had his areas of ministry alongside the others and this he felt was where he needed to be. I wrote, “You know, Lord, you might not have a huge church planned for me, but you can have a church and ministry setting which matches how you’ve enabled me and gifted me. Lord, move in me so I may see you move.” 

One night, David spoke of Joe’s death and of his own faith in God. In this conversation I asked, “Could I think of you as my father?”  

He responded, “’Oh Brian, to me you’re my brother, more than a son. There is a sense of equality, common work, faith; a brotherhood.’ So, brother it is. David loves me as much as I love him. Such a blessed friendship.”  

“Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath, The Christian’s native air.” David quoted from Hymn 533, v. 5. David quotes hymns like another might quote favorite movie lines.

David preached for me in 1990. So, recognizing the need for some of that “native air,” on Saturday night April 28th David and I spent an hour in prayer at the altar in the church for worship the next day, for many other needs and for one another. He prayed for my openness to the Lord and for me to let go of the things holding me back. After we had prayed, he leaned back and said as if he had just finished a gourmet meal, ‘Ah, now I can rest with all in His hands. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.’ Then, we shared for a time on the theme of surrender.

I wrote, “David witnesses to you not in some forced manner but so openly through first sharing You in himself. He allows the topic to turn to You. He allows joy to carry the subject, so everything spoken is within a context of pure joy.” 

“He and I spoke of loving oneself meaning to accept who you are and not berate or chastise yourself but to open your life fully to God. He has focused his messages on “The Joy of the Lord is my Strength,” because he knew I needed to find that source in my life. We laughed when he said he had been the senior partner of the pastor of another Torquay church for several years and I said, ‘You’ve been my senior partner for 12 years.’”  

As I anticipated his departure in 1990, I wrote:

“He leaves and I must stay. It is a thought which in many ways depresses me, for the visit has been keen. But in other ways I guess,

you’ve given this visit as fuel to focus my heart and life upon you.

You’ve given me this time to uphold and encourage me. Oh how it has encouraged me! Such a dear friend. I am so touched with the love and amazed at how he consistently says how I have helped him! Thank you for giving me the hope to be able to see in him your love for me.

I guess to live forward is to not ignore nor dwell upon yesterday but to be encouraged and strengthened by it.

“Psalm 84:5 says, ‘Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage…they go from strength to strength till each appears before God in Zion.’

Here is the hope, to journey from strength to strength. I’ll set my heart on pilgrimage.” 

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