By Dr. Bob Beltz – Pastor Highline Community Church
As the Christian community in Denver prepared to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it was stunned by the unexpected loss of one of its greatest leaders. On March 23, Dr. Jim Dixon went on a bicycle ride in Palm Springs, California, and did not return home. His death was a shock to all who heard, and along with losing a great leader, many of us lost a great friend.
I met Jim when I was 25 years old and he was 29. He had travelled to Kansas City to perform the wedding ceremony of an old college friend of mine who had moved to Denver and was attending Faith Presbyterian Church where Jim served as an associate pastor. I was preparing to move to Denver to begin studies at Denver Seminary and Jim invited me to connect with him when I reached town. I don’t think either of us could have imagined that our meeting would lead to a partnership that would last for over twenty years, and a friendship that lasted for over forty.
Jim had come to Faith Presbyterian from Southern California where he had grown up and attended and graduated from Westmont College and Fuller Theological Seminary. Jim was an outstanding athlete in track and field at Westmont and semi-professionally with the Southern California Striders during his time at Fuller. While at Fuller Jim met and married the love of his life, Barbara Batts. Their love for each other and the kind of marriage they modeled through the years will be one of his lasting legacies to those of us who knew him and loved him. Our hearts go out to Barb in the great loss she and the family have experienced.
Jim had been hired by Dean Wolf, the senior pastor at Faith at the time, to be the director of Christian Education. In that role, Jim only preached a few times a year. But when he did, it was obvious that he had a unique gift of communicating the story of Jesus in ways that people could connect with. Like Jesus, he was a great storyteller and his messages were always filled with great illustrations. It was Dean who inspired Jim to begin to memorize the Bible and quote from memory each week’s chapter of the Bible upon which his messages were based. I’m sure Dean hoped Jim would be the heir to the senior pastor position at Faith, but that was not to be.
In the summer of 1981, Jim joined Bo Mitchell and myself to begin working to launch a new kind of church in the Denver area. We wanted to start a church for people who didn’t like church. Jim was the perfect man to lead the charge. On March 4, 1982, Cherry Hills Community Church opened its doors in a little church building on Orchard Road. Unlike most church “plants” (the technical church jargon) Jim’s reputation had preceded him and the church was filled on the first Sunday. Never expecting or desiring the church to become as large as Faith Presbyterian had been, no one was more surprised than Jim when church attendance exploded. I think only Bo Mitchell saw the writing on the wall, because before the ink was hardly dry on the purchase contract on the Orchard Road building, Bo had already begun negotiations with Cherry Hills Village to acquire the abandoned Village Heights Elementary School on Colorado Blvd. south of Hampden. In September of 1985, construction was completed on a sanctuary that was added to the old school building and the church moved to its new facility. Within a year, the church grew from the seven hundred fifty members that made the move to over two thousand in attendance. It became one of the fastest growing churches in America, due largely to the amazing communication skills and great personality Jim possessed.
Over the next decade the church would thrive and Jim would become a nationally admired and respected leader. Outgrowing the Colorado Boulevard location, the church would relocate to its present Highlands Ranch location in 1995. Jim would continue to lead the ministry until his retirement last year,
At the Sunday service following Jim’s death, his successor Shane Farmer described Jim as the most humble man he had ever met. I would agree. Having known many mega-church pastors, Jim was one of a kind. He never let the success of Cherry Hills go to his head. He never thought it even had much to do with him. He
sincerely believed he was only a servant and vessel that Christ used to build a great ministry. As a result, God was able to use him to bless and enrich the lives of the thousands of men and women who benefitted from his servant’s heart. The tributes that have been paid to him across the Internet are well deserved. Many that barely knew him personally have expressed the impact he had on their lives and how much they loved him.
The Bible tells us that for the man or woman who belongs to Jesus, death is not to be feared. The Apostle Paul wrote that “to be absent from the body (referring to physical death) is to be present with the Lord.” Paul himself, in his letter to the church in Philippi wrote that he actually longed to “depart and be with Christ”. But he noted that it was more important for the Philippians that he kept living. As much as Jim loved Jesus, I believe that if he had the choice, Jim would not have chosen to “depart” when he did. He would have wanted to “remain” for the sake of Barb, his children Heather and Drew, his grandchildren, and the whole extended family. But God had other plans. Not to make light of the tremendous loss his earthly death is to those of us left behind, I have had an image in my mind almost from the moment I heard the sad news. It is of Jim riding down the street on his bicycle enjoying the moment. Suddenly, there is Jesus! It might have taken him a moment to realize what had happened. Jim loved thinking about and teaching about the second coming of Christ. He knew that the Bible prophesied that one generation of true believers would not experience physical death but be caught up to be with Christ in the event theologians call the Rapture. I know Jim hoped our generation would be that generation. In a sense, on March 23, Jim had his own personal rapture. He left his earth-suit behind and entered into the presence of Christ. I have no doubt that the words that he heard from the One he loved and who loved him above all others was, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We will miss him. But we hold fast to the “blessed hope” that we will all be together again…soon!
Services will be held Saturday, April 7, at 10:30 a.m., at Cherry Hills Community Church.
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