My Mentor, Jerry Bridges (Bob)

Michael and Jerry Trade Hats

An Excerpt from Chapter 11

Seems like everywhere I go these days people want to hear the story of how I hooked up with Jerry Bridges to write books. They recognize the staggering odds against a man of his stature and reputation associating himself as a coauthor with a guy like me.

In many circles Jerry Bridges is considered one of the top fifteen living Christian authors. He has something like eighteen titles to his credit, some of which have won awards or become bestsellers. He’s best known for The Pursuit of Holiness. It came out when I was at Ohio State. I heard about it but I didn’t read it. Holiness was not on my radar. I remember thinking that anyone who could write a book with a title like that must be a little scary.

Trust me, Jerry is not scary. He’s pretty old, a little hunched over, and he speaks with a soft voice. We met one night eight years ago and something magical started to happen. We began bonding on a deep, spiritual level. Two days later I was asked to take him to the airport. I got an idea for the drive time. I suggested, “How about if you pray and I’m invisible?” Jerry agreed and so he prayed aloud the whole way—about half an hour. His prayer was unforgettable. As his words piled up I could almost see his union with Christ by faith in the Gospel. It was that real.

Jerry’s flight was delayed so we spent the next hour together in the terminal. I knew I needed a lot of help so I wasted no time telling him my entire life story, including all the gory details. But I lost track of time and left him with a grand total of five minutes to tell me how to fix my life.

Three weeks later I attended a conference where Jerry was speaking. His topic was The Bookends—an analogy he uses to describe the way the Christian life works. The first bookend addresses the issue, “How does God accept us?” The second bookend answers, “How do we change?” We spent an hour together afterwards—still not nearly enough time. He told me he would be back in Ohio in a couple months to speak at another conference. He’d have an afternoon off and invited me to spend it with him.

The conference was in Amish country on a beautiful spring day. I showed up with a legal pad loaded with pages of questions. My dilemma could be distilled down to the fact that I had the Face of the Father, but I continued to sin, and the Face would grow dim. Even though adultery and porn addiction were in my past, sin was still present in my life every day. At times I would grieve over my sins to the point of self-loathing. We sat down and I unloaded my questions one by one. Before long I recognized a pattern. I’d ask a question related to the second bookend, how to change. Jerry would give a brief answer and then direct me back to the first bookend, how God accepts us. I’d say something like, “Yes, I know, I get that part.” Then I’d ask another question about how to change. And the pattern repeated itself. For three solid hours.

I thanked Jerry and climbed in my pickup truck, a little perplexed. To give myself time to think I took the scenic route home through the heart of Ohio’s Amish country. I tried to remember everything Jerry told me, but only one thing stood out. He kept saying, “Never forget—you stand in the present reality of your justification.” I knew justification meant declared righteous. But I didn’t understand how it worked or how it applied to me. Worse yet, I began to wonder if I had ever really experienced what it meant to stand in the present reality of it.

I prayed, “Lord, what is this about? Is it for me?” Instantly part of a verse Jerry shared came to my mind. “He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness.” All of a sudden I could almost see myself standing before God—every part of me clothed with the righteousness of Christ. The scene seemed to be suspended in time as I gradually became aware that this was a present reality. Every part of me—inside and out—was at that very moment covered in White. And the Source of the White was the perfect Son of God and Man who came to fulfill all righteousness—for me! Tears formed in my eyes and silently streamed down my face. I continued driving at full speed even though I could barely see the road. The thought actually crossed my mind that if I crashed into a brick wall I wouldn’t even care. I felt lighter than air. I was having the time of my life.

A few days later a letter arrived from Jerry. He recommended two books and an essay—all written over three hundred years ago by authors he affectionately referred to as “the old dead guys.” He offered to meet with me after I read it all. I’m a slow reader—I read no faster than you can read aloud. So the task seemed daunting. But almost as soon as I began my eyes were opened to the Gospel ona level I never knew existed.

A couple months later I rented a motor home and took Amy, Grace, and Michael out west for a month-long vacation. By this time Grace was five years old and Michael was three. On the third day Jerry and I met in Estes Park, Colorado at the crack of dawn while the family slept. I had legal pad and pen in hand. Before I could ask my first question, Jerry jumped in and asked me a question instead. A simple question. He asked how I was doing. I wasn’t doing very well. So I dropped my legal pad and told him the truth. I told him I was having difficulty in my marriage. He listened and asked questions and listened some more. He shared from his own life. He gave me advice from the Bible. And he did it with the compassion of a father. We spent a long time in prayer that morning. I can’t remember if we ever got around to the legal pad.

The six of us went on an easy hike that afternoon. Jerry and Michael exchanged hats. Michael’s looked like a bottle cap on Jerry’s head, and Jerry’s came down over Michael’s ears. By the time we said goodbye my kids were calling him “Uncle Jerry.” He’s been my mentor ever since. But he became more than a mentor. He became my close friend. I can tell him everything—and I do.

And remarkably, he tells me everything, too. We share each other’s burdens regularly. We pray for each other habitually. And we know each other intimately. The books we have written together have been like a byproduct of our relationship. Writing has never been the focus.

  • Pettitpeople

    I’m curious…what two books and what essay did he encourage you to read?

    • Bob

      I love it when people ask me this question!
      1. John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation, Crossway (that edition was not yet published at the time, but it is the best version of it today). 2. H. Bonar, God’s Way of Holiness3. Thomas Wilcox, Honey Out of the Rock (an essay) #2 & 3 are available free from The Chapel Library. I eventually re-wrote/updated Honey Out of the Rock as an exercise for Jerry. The original skips around from theme to theme, so I re-organized it. This was never published. 

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