This picture is from a couple years ago, but it's the only picture I have of Jerry and Lynn Jones. I do have another of Jerry, but it's too scary to show publicly. Last night, along with a huge crowd of their friends and family, we were part of a surprise birthday celebration for Jerry. Jerry, who many of us affectionately call "The Pope", turned seventy, and I have to say that he makes seventy look much better than most of us generally think of it. It was a great time of hugs, humor, and humility for Jerry. Lynn and his family organized the surprise and kept it sweet, focused, and fun. I know if they'd opened it up for comments and stories about Jerry from the crowd, a crowd with several preachers, teachers, elders, and old hunting partners, it would have lasted all night. They did a wonderful job and, all humor aside, he is worth the attention and honor.
I will forever be indebted to Jerry for many things in my life, but two things are at the top. He was my primary Bible teacher at Harding. He returned from his doctoral work in New Orleans as I started my second year at Harding ('71-'72), and taught all the preaching classes I took. Jerry had a huge impact on helping me to love and respect the job of preaching. He single-handedly taught me the importance and power of expository preaching and that has been my approach to preaching ever since. I live to expose scripture, make it come alive and have meaning, rather than use it as a source to support a preconceived conclusion. I don't believe I would have been as open minded and truth seeking if it had not been for his directions in how to share the Book.
We only had occasional contact through the years from 1974 until 2004 (Is that really thirty years?). In the late Summer of '04, I faced my greatest challenge and hurt in my life. Men who were friends, brothers, and my shepherds betrayed our relationship and our ministry, and I found myself swimming in shock and disappointment. The amazing element is that it strengthened my faith and my walk with God. He helped me walk with love and integrity, and then He sent more help. Just as this happened, Jerry and Lynn were previously scheduled to do their Marriage Matters Seminar with our church, and he stepped right into the role of friend, comforter, and mentor as if those thirty years had been thirty days. And maybe his greatest feat of friendship was getting us connected with the most loving church family we've ever known - our family for the last three and a half years - the Florissant church.
There are a lot of people a lot closer to Jerry than I am. That is just a factor of time and events. But there is no one who appreciates him any more than I do, and I will always be indebted to him as a teacher, mentor, and friend. So Happy Birthday, Bro. Long live "The Pope"!