Tiff Cothran went to be with the Lord on March 24, 2018. This story, originally written in 2013, has been updated to reflect his passing.
Tiff Cothran used to be full of excuses.
He used to have a list of reasons why he wasn’t helping his friend, Del Steele, set out the chairs and pamphlets at The Village Church every Wednesday, and he used to give them all to his wife every week.
A weekly golf game was at the top of that list. “I serve in so many other ways,” he thought. “Why this one?”
Then one day, in 2002, he was sitting in his golf cart with his feet propped on the No. 12 hole at a local track, and it hit him. “It was like the Lord spoke to me,” Tiff said. “I brought my clubs home, and I stood ‘em up in the garage and didn’t touch them for 10 years before I gave them away in 2012.”
This was the urging Tiff had been looking for. He started helping Steele prepare the church for Sunday mornings and nights.
Getting Hooked on the Lord
Tiff was a gentle man who had always been involved, in some capacity or another, with serving at his church.
Growing up on a farm and an early adult life in the military meant he was used to accepting positions of leadership. It wasn’t uncommon—or uncomfortable—for him to tell people what to do or to just do it himself.
But a quadruple bypass surgery in 2000 changed all that.
After that, Tiff tried to go behind the scenes more:
“I have tried to stay out of leadership and stress positions. Anytime I come under stress, my heart begins to pain, and I carry nitroglycerin and aspirin for an emergency.”
Yet it didn’t keep the man who used to teach Sunday school in Africa from leading his Home Group in multiple acts of service throughout the community—Tiff was seemingly all over the city. He knew there was somewhere to serve nearly every day.
There was Central Elementary School on Thursday afternoons, the soup kitchen on Saturday, the Cambodian missionaries his Home Group supported monthly. The list went on.
He didn’t accept credit, though. Far from it.
“There’s always something to do if you’re looking for it,” Tiff said. “When you get sold out for the Lord, you’re hooked.”
A Shared Passion
Not only was Tiff hooked on serving the Lord, but he had the rest of his Home Group hooked, as well. Before he passed, I asked him if it was difficult to get other people in his group to serve. His answer caught me off guard: “No.”
Part of that, he admitted, was because a lot of the group members were older and didn’t work day jobs. “If you’re retired, they’ll find you,” he said.
But those are the golden years, the sunset of life, a time for enjoyment and pleasure and travel and, gasp, golf.
Not for Tiff and his partners in crime, the chief of whom shared a wedding vow with Tiff.
“Service is an anchor for my marriage,” said Tiff.
It is what their entire relationship had been founded on, going all the way back to their days as youth in North Carolina together. It was even Dorene who first urged her husband to rediscover his passion for service at a time when golf had become an idol.
Serving Is Enough
Tiff’s attitude, his unwillingness to be swayed by anyone or anything and his wilting in the presence of the Lord’s callings on his life, is reminiscent of Paul’s in Philippians 3:12–14:
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
As we discussed his childhood over biscuits and gravy early on a Saturday morning, I asked him, out of curiosity, if this had been the plan for his life growing up—what he had wanted to be. His answer made me laugh.
“I wanted to be a minister or doctor but the Lord told me I wasn’t smart enough.”
So he just served instead.
“Since having a bypass operation and staying in a state of coma for three days, I feel the Lord and see His beauty more and much clearer. I look at people and see a beauty in them that I have never seen before. I am excited about what the Lord is doing in our church.”