Roger Lamb sent several of us an email yesterday to let us know that all of the old KNN (Kingdom News Network) videos had been uploaded to the ICOC Disciples Today YouTube channel. He also attached the link for a section from one of them highlighting a very important event which took place in February of 2004. It occurred at the Abilene Christian University Lectureship and featured a segment from a panel discussion by several of us from the ICOC and several from the mainstream Church of Christ. It was a unity panel and definitely worth watching. I’ll attach the link.
But watching that segment triggered some memories in me from deep down in my heart. Here is the email reply I sent Roger.
Thank you, Roger, for the video of the 2004 ACU Lectures and of the panel discussion. The video was very well done. For me, it brought up a plethora of memories, including one that is quite unique to me and I think quite unique in and of itself. It is pretty much a story untold by me, which is unusual, but a highly significant one in my life.
The day I traveled to that lectureship fell on the exact 25th anniversary of the small plane crash in Dallas that took the lives of the four full-time faculty members of the Preston Road School of Preaching. They were returning from a one-day trip to the ACU lectures late at night and crashed trying to negotiate an instrument landing in the most dense fog I have ever seen in Dallas.
I had left the faculty six months prior, one of the hardest decisions of my life. I almost didn’t make it. They had more vacancies than the one I left and had hired two new men. That meant that one of them died as a result of my leaving. When I visited their widows in the days following the crash, neither of whom I had met previously, both they and I knew that one of those men died as a result of me leaving the school. It took me a long time to process all of that. As I am writing this now, I’m not sure I have fully done it even after these many years.
Eldred Stevens was the director of the school and the pilot. He had flown to my hometown in that plane to recruit me as a student in early January of 1970 and later, when I was on the faculty, he and I had flown in it many times to recruit others. I loved flying and was a good recruiter, being a graduate of the school myself. Eldred and Rudell White were the two in the plane I knew, both of whom were very close friends. They were also graduates of ACU (when it was still ACC). I was asked to speak at both memorials, but since Rudell wasn’t nearly as well-known, I chose to travel to the Texas Panhandle where he was from and be with his family. That was one of the saddest experiences of my life, meeting his parents and brother for the first time and trying to console them while needing much consolation myself. They were a simple, salt-of-the-earth farming family who had produced one of the sharpest, most spiritual teachers I have ever known.
At the 2004 event, I met Eldred’s grandson and was invited to attend a luncheon hosted by the school’s faculty. I was able to get reacquainted with many of my former classmates and students I had taught. The whole thing was such a surreal experience. I was 36 years old when the plane crash occurred. I was exactly twice that in December of 2014 when we moved back to Dallas. God has graciously granted me many years of life since that fateful day. Tomorrow will be the 42nd anniversary of the crash. Interesting timing, Roger.
This is an abbreviated version of all that took place and but a fraction of all that I vividly remember. Oddly, in my book, “My Three Lives,” I didn’t tell this story. I don’t guess I have ever put it in print until now (February 20, 2021). The emotional impact this event had on my life is hard to describe, which may account for it being a story left untold for decades (at least in print). I could have been on that plane. I almost was. As I said, I flew in it with Eldred many times and have a photo of my two children standing on its wings when they were small. The four of us flew to a city in Oklahoma where our wives were speaking for a Women’s Day. I loved flying in small planes and have done it scores of times, probably well over a hundred times. But I missed that flight 42 years ago.
The crash occurred just before midnight and killed the four men instantly. Rudell’s wife, Kay, called me at 5 am the next morning to tell me about it. Hearing that news and realizing that I came very close to having been one of the victims put me into somewhat a state of shock. One of the elders of the Preston Road Church of Christ called me a short time later and asked me to come to the school and talk with the students. I had taught three of the four classes (groups) of students and we knew each other well. Thus, the elders thought I could help them deal with their grief. I was quite full of my own grief, but spent the day with the students. It was, to say the least, a surreal and sad day. I was also asked to teach part-time although I was preaching for a church in the area full-time. The elders of my church quickly agreed for me to accept that role with the school, given the tragedy that led to it. I continued in that role until we moved from Dallas in the summer of 1981.
I remember all of the phone calls that came very quickly the day after the crash. My dad was one who called as soon as he heard about it. Once I answered, he said “Wait a minute,” which was followed by a long period of silence. He explained that he assumed I was likely on the plane and had been killed, and in his shock he needed a few minutes to catch his breath and regain his composure. The whole experience produced perhaps the biggest emotional impact ever into my life, and that’s saying a lot.
Losing two close friends was a part of my shock. Eldred, although 20 years my senior and the Director of the school, loved what I loved – preaching, singing, flying and golfing. We did a ton of all of that together. Rudell and his family lived less than a mile from us in Richardson, Texas, and we rode together to our teaching job every day. Plus, we both loved fishing and fished a lot together. He was such a delightful man with a great sense of humor.
I remember arguing with him about whether largemouth bass or catfish were the best-tasting fish to eat. I took the former and he took the latter. One day I said to him, “Rudell, if catfish are so great, why didn’t God allow them to be eaten under the Mosiac Law?” The law demanded that fish have both scales and fins to be considered ceremonially clean and catfish don’t have scales. Rudell was a really sharp guy and a very quick thinker. Without hesitation he replied, “Well, that’s obvious – he was saving them for us Christians!” That was Rudell for you.
Another part of my shock was in realizing how close I came to being in the plane. The biggest part of the shock was in realizing that either Ray Evans or Tom Dockery died in my place. One of them was hired to fill the vacancy I left when I resigned from the faculty. I will never forget going to their homes and meeting their wives and trying to comfort them. I’m sure I met some of their children who were now without a daddy. Those were two of the most gut-wrenching, heart-breaking visits imaginable for me. It takes my breath away just writing about it now.
I remember staying up very late night after night after Theresa and the kids had gone to bed, just staring at the fire I kept going in the fireplace. I had thoughts like, “Why them and not me? Why me and not them?” Of course, there are no answers to questions like those, but we cannot keep from asking them. The only real answer is found in the doxology which ends Romans 11, so we must leave it at that until eternity.
Romans 11:33-36 (NIV2011)
33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” 36 For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
NOTE: This article was originally written as Chapter 18 in my book, “The Power of Spiritual Relationships.”
The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
for gaining wisdom and instruction;
for understanding words of insight;
for receiving instruction in prudent behavior,
doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to those who are simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young—
let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance. (Proverbs 1:1–5)
I am very thankful for the youth of our churches. My hope for the future of our churches is in them. While I appreciate all that God has been able to use me and others of the older generations to accomplish, my hope for what lies ahead is not in us. We have done our thing, and now the future is up to our younger generations. Many in my generation have a difficult time recognizing this and thus have a difficult time letting go of the reins. But God and time will see to it that we do, you can trust that! My own rapidly increasing attendance at memorial services makes the point, loudly! It would be far better if we were to recognize the need and have a planned generational transition much sooner than later. That is my prayer and my plea in this chapter.
A Lost Generation
Our family of churches, the ICOC, has been seriously affected in negative ways by losing a generation of leaders. In the early years of this millennium, we suffered as a movement a serious upheaval and a series of reactions. While we needed something to jar us into a realization of ineffective and wrongful spiritual building in our serious attempts to carry out the Great Commission, we experienced more damage than we realized at the time. A grave part of the damage was the loss of a generation of leaders (and members). As our overall membership declined, our available funds to support ministry staff declined. Young ministry staff leaders in their twenties were laid off because of these dwindling contributions and the decision to direct available funds toward ministry staff who were older and dependent on those funds for supporting themselves and their families in their career choice.
It took some years to start recovering and raising up younger leaders again in significant numbers, but by then we had another problem. Leadership roles were limited, and although we were adding young people to our ministry staffs, their opportunities for advancement into more influential roles were already filled by older staff members. The young ones could lead campus ministries or youth programs or in some cases, small churches. But the opportunities to lead in roles that carried with them a voice that was heard on a broader scale simply weren’t there. When we were growing fast in the 1980s and 1990s, leadership advancement was a natural part of our growth. When growth stopped, suddenly the whole picture was different, and natural progressions in leadership were stymied.
The result has been that older, established leaders have guided most of the directions we have taken as a whole. The same older crowd is leading in the same older ways, and those ways have ceased to produce the results they once did. Without younger leaders with younger thinking whose voices are not just heard, but allowed to shape our future directions, we will continue down the path of diminishing growth and relevance with the upcoming generations. As I put it bluntly from time to time, many (not all) of those who were once new wine breaking old wineskins have themselves become old wineskins—and don’t realize it. It pains me to say such things, but facts are facts, and I think these are indisputable and need to be recognized, admitted and acted upon.
Since our growth rate is diminishing, the natural progression of having more and more younger leaders entering the fray is not going to happen organically. We older leaders are going to have to find alternative roles for ourselves, like shepherding and teaching (teaching was my choice over a decade ago), and put younger leaders in roles that allow them to help us figure out how to turn the growth rate around. That might sound radical, but I hope it also sounds rational, because I believe it is the only rational choice available. The lost generation syndrome can be reversed, but only if we are willing to make radical choices that seem unnatural to us.
Youth and Radical Change
Christianity had its beginning with youth, for they are the ones open to entertaining new ideas and approaches. The apostles were likely quite young. If John the apostle wrote his five documents (his Gospel, his three letters and Revelation) when tradition says he did, he must have been a teenager when called to be an apostle. I suspect most of the other apostles were also young. History shows that radical things done in the spiritual realm are almost always initiated by youth. Youth and radical go together, not old and radical. It is the nature of aging to become tradition bound, and the recognition and rejection of traditions becomes more and more an elusive task. I wish it weren’t so, but it is, and that is why my hope is in the youth among us.
As that exciting first century church aged, it moved further and further away from the truth and replaced it with traditions. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit predicted this departure through Paul in no uncertain terms. Passages like 1 Timothy 4:1–3 and 2 Timothy 4:2–4 demonstrate that God didn’t want this turning aside to take later generations by surprise. They also serve as a warning about how easy it is to move from truth to traditions, an ever-present danger in every age. Further, the danger is not just limited to traditions that directly violate Scripture; the ones that are not unbiblical but become ineffective are in some ways more damaging, since they block the effective spreading of the gospel. That type represents our current challenge, for said simply, we as a movement are stuck.
As history unfolded, it was only a matter of time before some youthful radicals had enough of the Establishment’s traditions and drew a line in the sand. Well, in this case, it was actually a document nailed to a door. Martin Luther nailed his “Ninety-Five Theses” against Catholic teachings to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. He was in his early thirties when this momentous event took place, but he was much younger when his radicalness was taking shape. Another very important figure in the Protestant Reformation was John Calvin, who began his extensive writings when yet in his twenties. Once again, history connects the terms “youth,” “radical” and “change.”
Then we come to the Age of Reason, when the American Restoration Movement was born. Much about the Reformation was commendable; much about its effectiveness was not so commendable. By 1700, there were 150 divisions within Protestantism. In the early 1800s, leaders from various denominations started questioning the concept of reformation. Trying to reform something with so many divergences from the Bible was proving to be impossible in the quest for religious unity. Thus the idea of just going back to the New Testament as the pattern for Christianity and restoring it gained ground quickly. The two most influential leaders started their quest for restoration of the NT church when they were still young. Alexander Campbell was in his twenties and Barton W. Stone was just about thirty.
Fast forward to the origins of my current church association, now known as the International Churches of Christ. This group began as a spiritual renewal group within what I now call the Mainline Churches of Christ. It was at the outset a campus ministry movement in the 1970s. Its epicenter was in Gainesville, Florida at the Crossroads Church of Christ, and it was spearheaded by Chuck Lucas when he was about thirty and later pushed forward by Kip McKean when he was about twenty-five. That Crossroads Movement became the Discipling Movement and the Boston Movement and ultimately the ICOC as we now know it.
The Future – Scary and Exciting!
Is not the pattern of radical spiritual change fairly obvious? Doesn’t it always start with radical youth who burn with a desire to change the world? That is why I am so thankful for the youth among us. They must pick up the baton and do what we are currently failing to do—affect the whole world significantly with the rapid spread of the gospel. Christianity has never been about having a nice, comfortable church to make us feel warm inside once or twice a week. It was designed by its Designer to radically affect the world.
Our society is changing so fast that keeping up with how people think is almost impossible for us older folks. We don’t understand youth and they don’t understand us too well either. We use similar words but often are speaking a different language. But that is nothing new. It has always been that way. Generation gaps are real, and really important to at least recognize (not just decry). I highly recommend reading Chapter 21 in Michael Burns’ book All Things to All People. The title of that chapter is “World War Z,” and I can promise you that it is one of the most eye-opening, disturbing pieces we of the older generation could read. It is for those of all generations among us a must-read—so please read it!
Youth—Christ’s mission now depends on you! Grab hold of it and GO! People like me who have done their best want to see our work as only a foundation of what you can do as you build to the sky with the help of Almighty God. I am praying for you and already thanking God for what you are going to do. I am also praying for us older ones, that we will help you begin doing it—now. Let’s all please do our part, and may God lead us to do it soon!
This world has so many problems. We try to solve those problems through political means and through our freedoms in America to protest and aggressively comment against our leaders. When we think about the problems in this country of racism, poverty, inequality, bullying and so on, it can get very overwhelming. Wouldn’t it be great if someone had a magic wand to immediately make good out of evil? Imagine if there was a young teen that had the power of one swish of that magic baton and could immediately stop racism. What if a teacher somehow found out she had the ability to whisk away poverty because she was in possession of a magic pointer? They would be celebrities. They would be heroes.
Once Upon a Time…
There was a man that had such a power, and this is not a Fairy Tale. His name was Jesus. He commanded attention everywhere he went. In Matthew 4, crowds followed him, listened to his teaching and were healed of various diseases and illnesses. In Matthew 5, the crowds were so large that he had to go onto a mountainside so everyone could hear him teach and experience his healing power. Matthew 14 tells us that the crowds were so large and constant that in trying to get some alone time, he left on a boat. Yet, people followed him on foot from many towns. Jesus was that celebrity I mentioned earlier. He had power that no one ever experienced before. He had the ability to teach in a way that no one had ever heard before. He had the power to raise his magic staff and heal the crowds in one fell swoop. What are the examples that the Gospel writers tell us of how he healed the masses?
The Gospels reference Jesus’ healing ministry over 80 times in over 30 chapters of the Gospel accounts, which comprise 33% of his entire ministry. Wow, to have his magic wand now would be priceless! The problem is, he had no magic wand. He didn’t use special fairy dust that would blow over the multitudes. So how did he heal all those people? Simply through touch. Relationship. Singular compassion on each person he saw. Personal contact. There was no fairy dust, there was no magic wand but there was the healing power of social interaction.
Imagine the lines that formed to receive healing. Also imagine the excitement when the mother was holding her daughter who needed healing and was next in line. Then she steps up to Jesus, and even though there are large crowds, Jesus is totally focused on her and her daughter. Jesus was focused on that little girl. He asked what her name was? Bending down to her, the girl looked into the eyes of a man who had authority over the angels. Those same eyes that knew the world before it was formed. And most of all, amongst the noise and confusion, she saw those eyes focused solely on her. Story after healing story, Jesus touched. He touched physically, sometimes just emotionally or verbally. He healed through personal connection.
Making It Personal
My job is to help the poor. As a leader of HOPE worldwide, we seek to help the poor as much as possible with the resources we are blessed with. In my daily walk, I try to help the poor as much as I can. I have been a disciple for over 43 years and have tried to incorporate that into my life. I have tried my best, with countless failures, to walk as Jesus walked, yet I have recently learned a lesson of helping the poor that has been very clear in the Bible I have been reading for four decades, but I missed it. How did Jesus help those in need? How would Jesus help the poor today? How would he respond to the woman at the stop light asking for money? How would he respond to the homeless living under a bridge?
HOPE worldwide has an audacious goal that is two-fold. We aspire to see all disciples regularly helping the poor as they go about their typical day. The world is full of those with unmet needs for the most basic things in life. But we also hope that through serving the poor, the server will be transformed to be more like Jesus, and that the beneficiary of that service would see and feel the love of Jesus.
When I hand out a dollar bill to that guy at the stop light, I feel good about myself, and that man is glad that he is making progress toward his daily goal, but neither of us are really transformed. When I hand the sandwich out to the homeless souls living in the cold on hard, wet concrete, I’m sure they are glad to have something to eat that day, and I feel good that I took time out of my schedule to serve because of my desire to please God. But I was not transformed, and I doubt that the person I helped was either. Begging is demeaning, reducing a person created in God’s image to be reinforced in the belief that he or she is only a beggar.
Ahh – Real Transformation
Recently I tried a different method of helping a person in need. I was coming home from one of my frequent Home Depot runs. At a small intersection near my house, a number of individuals stand at the intersection to ask for money. As usual, if I had cash in small denominations, and the traffic allowed, I would give the person a few dollars. This time I decided to practice what HOPE worldwide (and I) preach. I stopped the car alongside the road and got out of my car, then asked the gentleman if he and I could talk for a few minutes. At first, he was leery of my request, but I tried to assure him that it was cool. He then came over to find out what I wanted. I introduced myself and told him I just wanted to talk with him about his life, and if I could pray with him. I let him know that I would give him whatever money he would miss out on by talking to me instead of collecting dollar bills from passers-by.
We spoke for about 15 minutes. I asked him his story, where he came from, if he had any kids etc. It was a very heartfelt conversation, especially as he sensed that I had no hidden agenda. As he spoke more, I can tell you that for this brief moment, Isaiah felt like a man who was respected for who he was as a person. We discussed having teenage kids, his old job fixing cars, and how the Bible assures us that every human being is created in God’s image. Finally, I asked him if I could put my hand on his shoulder and pray for him. He looked shocked in a good way. We bowed our heads and I prayed. Afterward he told me with a slight tear in his eyes that no one had ever prayed for him. I offered him a twenty-dollar bill to make up for his lost revenue for the time he talked with me. He flatly refused. I told him that if he didn’t take it, I would just leave it on the street and it would just blow away. We laughed and he sheepishly took the money.
As I drove off, I realized that I had been transformed in a way that I never would have had I just opened my window and handed him some money. I want to believe that Isaiah was also transformed, at least for that moment in time. Jesus didn’t just throw out his healing powers to those that would catch them. In every healing, he personally and freely gave his power to an individual, one touch at a time. Since that experience imitating Jesus, as I read the Gospels, I am reminded of my friend Isaiah and the thousands of people Jesus touched, interpersonally, respectfully and compassionately, one person at a time. I think I hear Jesus still saying, “Go thou and do likewise.” Are we listening?
Jim McGuiggan is a friend, an old friend more than a current friend, but an important friend. Jim taught for a number of years at the Sunset School of Preaching training ministers. During some of those years, I was teaching at the Preston Road School of Preaching, a very similar training program. During that time and shortly thereafter, Jim and I spent a few very enjoyable times together, to me very memorable times. With his combination of wit and Irish brogue, I thought him to be a most captivating speaker. In fact, he was one of my favorites during those years when our lives overlapped.
I was also a fan of his books. He wrote much like he spoke, thus also in captivating ways. He delved into several genres of spiritual writing as he penned a large number of books. One, he wrote of doctrinal matters, much of it about the end times. Several of his books absolutely destroy the now popular premillennial views. One of the early promotors of this heresy was Hal Lindsey, and Jim addressed Lindsey’s teaching very directly and very effectively. Anyone willing to follow Jim’s arguments with Bible in hand would agree with my statement that he decimated the views of Lindsey and all others who followed in his steps. Just to clarify, that would include the popular “Left Behind” books and movie, based on a false doctrine of the “Rapture.” (You can read my material addressing the same issues on my website, gordonferguson.org.)
Another genre Jim pursued was that of biblical expositions. He wrote a number of commentaries on both Old Testament and New Testament books. His commentaries on the Prophets were to me invaluable. Knowing that he wasn’t going to be caught up in speculative teaching when interpreting difficult passages and books, like Ezekiel, gave me comfort when studying the prophets. I didn’t agree with everything he wrote, but as is accurately said of scholars, even if you don’t end up agreeing with them on a given point, you will never look at that point in quite the same way again.
The third genre of Jim’s writing falls into the realm of devotional books. Presently, I am rereading his “The God of the Towel,” with the subtitle “Knowing the Tender Heart of God.” He has written a series of books like this one containing short chapters, most of them two or three pages each, that are almost unique in their ability to reach the heart. I begin most of my days reading one of the short chapters in one of these books. I will end this post with one of these little golden nuggets, their value lying in both the content and the way it is presented. The man is a captivating writer, at least to me. I also read similar pieces on his blog, “Spending Time with Jim McGuiggan” (https://jimmcguiggan.wordpress.com/).
Perhaps his longest book in this genre is “Celebrating the Wrath of God.” Although the title is scary, I think overly so, the book is similar to my most popular book, “The Victory of Surrender.” When I am on a personal spiritual retreat, I read several books in addition to spending much time in prayer and listening to spiritual music. I always read my own “Surrender” book and have read Jim’s “Celebration” book at least five times through the years. I obviously value the potential of its spiritual impact immensely.
In all of his writing, Jim is clearly an independent thinker. He has, and does, read very widely and quotes or references other writers of all types, an interesting number of them atheists. He is not a narrow thinker, confined within the walls of spiritual orthodoxy. Most writers in any genre are often called “Me Too” authors. In other words, they express about the same things others have already expressed. They just look for new ways to say them. Jim is decidedly not one of these types. He often goes in directions I’ve never read about or thought about, and therein lies a significant part of the value of reading JM. You are forced to keep thinking and keep learning.
There you have it – my appreciation for an old friend and his contribution to my spiritual knowledge, and more importantly, to my spiritual life. When I was young, it was his doctrinal and expositional writing that most intrigued me. Now that I am old, it is his devotional material that warms my heart. Many of the heart-warming nuggets are introduced with a sharp edge that first opens the heart to let the other in. He is a master at the technique, almost in a class by himself as far as I’m concerned.
Jim is now in his 80’s, a few years older than me. He lost his dearly loved wife, Ethel, some years back, and I suspect a part of Jim died with her. But she still lives in his writing, appearing at unsuspected times in unsuspected ways. My old friend and I are obviously in our last phase of life on planet earth. My most important pursuit in this phase of life is simply to seek the heart of God and walk with him. Jim, thank you for being such a help to me for so many decades, and especially in this present one. And now the quote from the last paragraph of a little chapter from “The God of the Towel,” entitled “More Than Pardon.”
But there is one thing we need to be clear about – it must be holiness we want and not mere pardon; it must be holiness we want and not merely the sugary sweet “love” we hear so much of. And if it is holiness we want, God will go after it in us and will not ask us if we’re happy about the way he pursues it.
NOTE: this article originated as a Facebook post on both of my FB pages.
On Friday morning, October 30, 2020, another of my spiritual heroes departed for his eternal home. Ron Brumley served as an elder for many decades in several different churches – San Diego, Chicago and Seattle. It was during his first tenure in San Diego that God caused our lives to intersect. He and his fellow elder, George Havins (another of my departed spiritual heroes), sought input from me about their church situation in Poway, California, a suburb of San Diego. Knowing that I shared their background in the Mainstream Churches of Christ and was older than anyone on their ministry staff led to the advice seeking discussions. In turn, those discussions led to them eventually inviting me to move to San Diego and become their congregational evangelist. It was for me a marriage made in heaven.
A Pivotal Role in My Life
Without question, Ron and Linda, along with the Havins, played a very pivotal role in my life. I was frustrated with the Mainstream churches and was looking for a church that resembled the one I read about in the Book of Acts, one that wanted to turn the world upside down for Christ. After we moved to San Diego in June of 1985, my wife and I found what we had dreamed of in the church and in the two elders and their wives. I could elaborate a lot here, but suffice it to say that my wife’s oft repeated comment that we thought we had died and gone to heaven was no exaggeration in our minds and hearts – then or now, thirty-five years later. And Ron was front and center of that dream come true.
Quite a number of leaders in the Mainstream churches tried to join what I then called the “Discipling Movement.” Not many made it. So much was different in those two families of churches, and adjusting to differences, especially spiritual ones, is unsettling at best. Some of those differences were simply new ways of applying Scriptures and some of them were bad ways of trying to apply Scriptures. It took all of us time to figure out those differences and either adjust our attitudes or our practices. Without Ron and George to patiently and wisely guide me through those adjustments, I would never have made it. I so wish others like me would have encountered such marvelous guidance. Their stories might have ended up like mine, a cherished story of blessed experiences. The unique role Ron played in my life would alone convince me that there was a God and that this God was good.
A Deep Humility
When I say that Ron played a pivotal role in my transition from one family of churches to another, I can easily identify certain characteristics in him that made this a reality. The first was a deep humility. In our earliest meetings at conferences, where those first private discussions took place, it was obvious that Ron only cared about helping the church. He wanted to see anything in himself that might hinder that goal. When he asked for input, he did so with humility, and when he was given it, he was never defensive. Not once. Later when we worked together in San Diego, it was obvious that this was simply who he was, a part of his character.
One memory stands out especially. When I was interviewing for the evangelist role, we spent a lot of time with both the Brumleys and the Havins. Following a meal together, we continued our discussion as we left the restaurant and walked to our car. Ron said that he knew that I would want to disciple the elders and he just wanted me to know that this would be just fine with them. At that time, most discipling relationships were like mentoring relationships, with one person pretty much directing the relationship.
That statement was a rather shocking one to me. In the family of churches of which I was a part up to that point, the elders were most definitely the ones in charge. At the time, I didn’t reply to Ron’s comment, but I knew that we would have a two-way relationship of equality and disciple one another. That, of course, proved to be the case once we moved to San Diego. Both he and George were amply endowed with deep humility. How could God not bless a church being overseen by such shepherds?
A Wonderful Counselor
Ron was a great listener. After listening to others pour out their hearts and problems, he knew just the right questions to ask. He didn’t present himself as the answer man, but as a friend guiding both of you in seeking God’s answers. Our son, Bryan, was in high school when we moved to San Diego. He and I had our challenges as he was quickly approaching the time of leaving the home nest. On at least two occasions, we asked Ron to sit down with us and help us in our relationship bumps. Although it has been over thirty years since those sessions took place, I well remember Ron’s gentle counsel. No one who knew him had any trouble trusting him. Bryan and I gladly sat at his feet.
He gave great ministry counsel as well. Soon after we arrived in San Diego, I started leading various types of meetings, some the likes of which I had never even attended. At the first house church leader meeting I led, I started out with a biblical lesson, but then kept asking the group what they normally did next. Ron and George hung around until the fellowship time ended and everyone else had left. Then they sat me down for a little chat. They said that leaders had to instill confidence in whatever group they were addressing, and to be asking the group what should be done next was hardly the way to accomplish that goal. They instructed me to ask them in advance if I was unsure about how to lead a given type of meeting, but then to take charge and lead it – confidently. Good advice. From that point, I did what they said, and proved an old adage to be true: “Fake it ‘till you make it!” That approach is not hypocritical, by the way. It is doing what is best for the people you are leading. It worked wonderfully.
About a half dozen years ago, Ron called me to express appreciation for my then new book on church leadership (Dynamic Leadership). He was effusive in his praise of the book and in his expressing of gratitude for it. In the process, he made a statement that remains etched in my memory. He said that he would never recommend another book on the topic until a person had first read mine. Wow! Of all the compliments I received regarding that book, Ron’s is the one I remember. But it wasn’t simply the content of what he said; it was having him say it, the wise sage for whom I had such deep respect. When he spoke, we all listened.
A Surrendered Spirituality
Ron was a deeply spiritual man who handled life with a trust in his God that shone brightly. In the early days of our church movement, most of the key leaders were young men. They were zealous young men, but still young and inexperienced, frequently reminiscent of the old adage, “Often wrong, but never in doubt!” Ron took all of the mistakes made in stride, realizing that the passing of time and the making of mistakes was the way most of us learn, especially in our youth. That sometimes painful learning process affected the Brumleys significantly on more than one occasion, but Ron trusted God to work through those times to bring about ultimate good. In short, he didn’t just believe Romans 8:28; he lived it.
His beautiful level of surrender sustained him in life and carried him through to death. Once at an elder’s retreat, he and I went to a little Mexican restaurant for lunch. I’m sure we talked about a wide range of subjects, but in the mix, I introduced the topic of death. Aging and death have never been easy topics for me to deal with, as may be seen readily in the two chapters I wrote in the book, “An Aging Grace.” Anyway, I asked Ron if he ever worried about dying (since I do). He answered with words pretty close to this: “No, because if I was afraid to die, that would mean that I wasn’t thankful for all of the many blessings with which God has filled my life.” I thought it a profound statement and have held on to it since then. Sometimes when I feel afraid to die, I pray about what he said and picture him saying it. It is a memory embedded in my mind and heart – with Ron right in the middle of it.
A Crazy Sense of Humor
I know that God must have quite a sense of humor. After all, he made us, didn’t he? Along with Ron’s many other spiritual endowments, add a crazy sense of humor. He loved to laugh and he loved to make others laugh. When he had this certain little grin on his face and a twinkle in his eye, you knew to watch out. Something unexpected was about to come your way. During my preaching tenure in San Diego, we had an understood dress code. I won’t go into the background of that one, but Sundays often found Ron and me in the same “uniform.” After the Sunday services ended, Ron stood at the back to greet people and meet visitors.
Since we both wore similar glasses and often dressed very similarly, visitors sometimes mistook Ron for me and complimented him on the sermon. He thanked them profusely and carried the conversation on for some while before telling them that he wasn’t the preacher. I caught him in the act a few times and gave him grief, but he relished and embellished those moments to his heart’s delight. As Ron often told our mutual friends, we are too much alike for God to allow us to work closely together again! That proved to be true, but few thoughts were more exciting than entertaining that possibility. Since God didn’t see fit to grant it in time, we now look forward to it in eternity.
Ron, you were a great gift to me in this life and the same to countless others. The world was different because you were in it and it will never be quite the same with you not in it. But eternity has been changed by you, in ways that you didn’t fully understand until last Friday. I am happy for you but all who loved you are missing you terribly. We look forward to our reunion with you, and for your peers in age, it won’t be long in coming. See you soon.
Jerry Jones departed this life on Wednesday, May 13, 2020. He and I were appointed as elders together in Phoenix, Arizona in September of 2004. We became co-laborers together in the church and close friends in all settings. In a short time, I think both of us would have said that we were the best of friends. We had many things in common, including a love for nature sports like fishing, and also golf, although neither of us were great golfers. We shared many happy times having fun together. We shared many happy times serving together in God’s kingdom. We also shared some of the most challenging times in the church that I have ever faced. In going through those times, I have stated repeatedly that I wouldn’t have made it through them without Jerry. I do believe that to be absolutely true.
When Jerry’s dearly loved wife of 57 years called to tell me that Jerry was approaching death, my heart became very heavy, but my mind became very active. I thought about our times together and how I would describe him to those who didn’t know him or know him well. I thought back to a book I read about Jesus decades ago entitled, “Man of Steel and Velvet.” I don’t remember much about the book, but the title encapsulates the nature of Jesus perfectly.
I think of his confrontations of the Pharisees and other religious leaders who were leading people astray from God’s will. Jesus was clearly a man of steel on those occasions. I think of him as a man of velvet in his dealings with women and children. His relationship encounters those of that day displayed both of these extremes and showed every needed response in between. He was the most beautiful demonstration of both strength and sensitivity possible.
Jerry reminded me of Jesus as a person of both steel and velvet. During our church challenges, he had a steely, unwavering character. He was an old navy career man, and it showed. Yet, that part of his nature had been sanctified by his conversion to Christ. He wasn’t at all harsh, but he was unyielding when it came to doing what was right and needed. In the middle of the storms, he was simply unflappable. I’ve known few like him. In spite of his deep love for people, he never caved in to sentimentality. He was just determined to do what was righteous in spite of possible responses and reactions.
He and Karen were retired when he was appointed an elder, and they chose to come to the ministry staff meetings as if they were on staff. What a blessing that was! Jerry could read people like a book. His level of emotional intelligence had perhaps begun as “street smarts,” but was molded by his Christian perspective. The spiritual battles we faced in the early part of this century were extremely challenging, but Jerry was always up to the challenge. He was my rock on many occasions and my greatest supporter in the leadership roles in which I served. I had no one else quite like him.
Jerry and Karen became Christians later in life in somewhat of a unique way. Their daughter was the first in their family to be converted and she then reached out to her brother. Jerry and Karen attended the baptism of their son and were deeply moved by all that they saw and heard. They had not been particularly religious prior to that, but the impact of what they were observing in their children and their friends was huge. Jerry and Karen studied the Bible and were baptized, full of their newfound faith and zeal. This led them to fast growth spiritually. They were all in with church activities and Bible study. In the latter area, Jerry made up for lost time and dug deeply into learning the Bible. He became an avid reader of spiritual books and I think read every one I have written.
When we moved to Phoenix at the end of 2003, the church didn’t have an eldership, but the members were very urgent about the need to appoint some elders. The staff and non-staff opinion leaders had formed a group to act as an advisory council during this challenging time. They were a part of the elder appointment process by discussing and recommending possible candidates. Jerry’s name came up, but his relatively short experience as a Christian was seen as a possible deterrent to being appointed in a short timeframe. In a context dealing with the qualification of elders, 1 Timothy 3:6 warns against appointing new converts, because pride might be a problem for them. However, as those of us on staff discussed it, Jerry’s obvious humility ruled out our concerns in this area. As a result, Jerry was appointed with four others of us as the first eldership in Phoenix was established. Thank God that he was!
Jerry’s velvet side was seen in a number of ways. Like Jesus, he was very sensitive to women and children, and to men who needed that sensitivity. He and Karen made two trips to the Philippines with us, serving in many ways. Both of them facilitated groups for a very large Dynamic Marriage training session that I was leading. The rigorous schedule just about did us all in, but the Jones did a great job and endeared themselves to the churches in the Philippines.
On one occasion, we visited a HOPE Worldwide complex that housed a large group of children who had been abused in every way possible. When we arrived at the site, we were carefully informed that due to the abuse the children had suffered, they would probably be hesitant to relate to us in a normal, relaxed manner. Of course, the explanation made all the sense in the world. However, Jerry’s spirit was perceived immediately by the children, and the young ones were crawling all over him from the beginning, just like he was Santa Claus. I have some heart-warming photos from that special day. But that was Jerry for you.
Jerry and Karen were the coordinators for regular trips to an orphanage in Agua Prieta, Mexico just over the border of Arizona. This was a labor of love for them for many years and watching how the kids there responded to Jerry was about the same as the kids in the Philippines. Jerry was the man of steel and velvet, a man among men, full of the Spirit of Jesus. This unique blend of strength and sensitivity made Jerry one of the most unique elders I have ever worked with and it made him one of my trusted allies and closest friends. His spirit was infectious and his heart for God and people was large. He was dearly loved by his devoted wife, his children and grandchildren, and by his spiritual family. Thank you, God, for blessing us all with such a man! Go with God, my brother!