Thursday, January 5, 2017

Thankful for Jerry Barnes, who invested himself in my life
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director

Jerry Barnes passed away this morning.
Jerry was pastor of University Baptist Church in Shawnee when I was a student at Oklahoma Baptist University. He was key in giving me guidance and support during the faith struggle I experienced, which began early in my sophomore year (1970-'71) and lasted well beyond my OBU years.
It was my dear friend Ron Russey, who lived in the room adjoining that of my roommate Cary Wood and me in Brotherhood Dorm, who suggested I go see Jerry. Ron had grown up in Jerry's previous church in Hobart, OK. I'm forever in Ron's debt. Tragically, Ron was killed in the fall of 1979, when his car went off the highway and overturned. One of the greatest losses I've ever experienced. Ron was only 31.
In the spring of 1971, when I went to Jerry Barnes and told him that I no longer believed in God, much less that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, Jerry said, "come join our church."

Can you imagine a pastor welcoming a person who no longer believed but was searching? That's unconditional grace, something far too rare in our churches. That was Jerry Barnes.

Jerry knew that church was exactly where I needed to be. For the remainder of my time at OBU, Jerry met with me once a semester in his office, where I would update him on the progress of my faith struggle/search, and he would help me with the next steps along the way.
I regard Jerry Barnes as second only to my Daddy, Jase Jones, in helping me find my way back to Christ. Jerry's sermons were like nothing I had heard before - they made me dig deep for spiritual truth.
At University Baptist Church, I also had the benefit of a Sunday School class taught by Jim Hurley, the legendary natural science professor at OBU. Under Hurley in that Sunday School class, we studied books such as Vahanian's The Death of God - not your garden-variety Sunday School class - from which I still have some of Hurley's cut-and-paste handouts (back when cut-and-paste meant a pair of scissors, a sheet of paper, and a bottle of Elmer's).

Can you imagine the courage of a pastor who would encourage a teacher like Jim Hurley to help students confront their deepest questions and doubts in such a way? That was Jerry Barnes. 
Jerry's sermons were truly formative - transformative, if truth be told - for me, as were his friendship and wise counsel. A few months ago, at my request, Jerry's wife, Bobby, sent me 20 of Jerry's sermons. I'm currently working on putting those sermons online for a new generation to read. It won't be the same as seeing Jerry deliver them, but I pray that God can use Jerry's printed word to impact lives today, just as He used Jerry's spoken word in my life some 45 years ago.
On September 4 of this past year, our 40th anniversary, my wife Joanna and I drove up to Shawnee and worshipped at University Baptist Church, where we were married 40 years earlier to the day. In our wedding, Daddy performed the ceremony, and our dear friend Jerry Barnes read scripture. Joanna and I stood on the chancel where we had said "I do" 40 years earlier and recalled the events of that day.
I'll be driving up to Miami, Oklahoma, on Monday for Jerry's funeral at the First Presbyterian Church at 2 p.m., paying my respects to Jerry's wonderful family and thanking God that He brought people like Ron Russey, Cary Wood (Ron and Cary, in late-night bull sessions, challenged me to think for myself), and Jerry Barnes into my life when I needed them most.
Thanks be to God for Jerry Barnes.