23 July 2007
Raymond C. Ortlund, Sr.: 1923-2007
“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”
Last night at 7:15 in California, my grandfather, one of the most remarkable men I've ever known, entered into the joy of his master. He is now better off. The world is now worse off.
There are times in life when the barrier between this world—what we can feel, see, touch—and the next world are thick. Sometimes it’s in the wake of deliberate sin, sometimes it’s in a period of prolonged spiritual dryness. Sometimes it's inexplicable. God seems distant, and all this stuff we say we believe about God and the Bible and eternity seems vague and surreal.
There are other times when just the opposite is the case. Something happens that makes that wall between this world and the next, between earth and heaven, which at times felt miles thick, become just a few inches thin, and heaven and hell and eternity stare us in the face in an unavoidable way (“and the things of earth will grow strangely dim”).
This is one of those moments, for me.
My grandfather is, with a few possible exceptions, the most remarkable man I’ve ever known. As my dad put it yesterday, he is the definition of a godly man. I could never come close to communicating the weight of what my grandfather has taught me, mainly by example, about walking with Christ, and joy, and spiritual tenacity that is fueled by gospel joy rather than Galatianism.
Despite the frustration of not adequately doing justice to God's abundant work of grace in his life, I list eight things I've learned from Grandpa. And am still learning.
My goal in listing these is not to erect a picture of a perfect man, which would only discourage, but to “consider the outcome of his way of life, and imitate his faith.” I want others to feel the weight of what God did with this very ordinary man and, with me, to be stirred. This is not exalting a man instead of Jesus but exalting a man because of Jesus. Grandpa is the last person who would want his own name to overshadow that of Christ.
1. The Centrality of Love. When he came and spoke to the pastors of Missouri Presbytery of the PCA in 2004, with the chance to pick any text he wanted, he chose John 13: "A new commandment I give you: that you love one another." It was vintage Grandpa when halfway through his message he stopped and instructed the guys present to go around and tell their brothers that they loved them. A simple "I love you" from one pastor to another, face to face. Imagine.
2. The Importance of Joy. Nothing was more tragic, to Grandpa, than a morose believer. He was himself one of the happiest people I've ever known. And not without a good deal of heartache of his own.
3. The Bible as Food. Grandpa did not read the Bible mainly for information but to feed his soul. In one of his books he writes, "You don’t get food for your soul by osmosis! You can hear others talk of it; but until you yourself regularly take in that delicious Word of God, you’re undernourished!” I possess a Bible of his from the 1980s. Every page is marked. Including 2 Chronicles and the second half of Joshua.
4. The Critical Place of Prayer. Sometimes we would be together as a family and Grandpa would say, “Let’s stop and pray about this.” No spiritual gamesmanship with the man. Zero posturing. Just honest, earnest talking to and pleading with the Lord.
5. The Secret Value of Repentance and Humility. One evening in Nashville when we were together as a family Grandpa had been telling me about how Fuller Seminary started in his church, and mentioned some of the big-wigs involved. The next morning, the first thing he said to me was: "Dane, I need to apologize to you about something. I was putting myself forward last night when I was talking about Fuller and those guys, and it was prideful. I want to tell you I am sorry. Will you forgive me? I don't want to be a self-promoter." He was 82, had spoken to crowds of 100,000 in India, had had an interational radio ministry, and written over 20 books. And he wanted to apologize to his grandson for being a self-promoter.
6. The Importance of Loving My Wife. In 2004, sitting in a booth at Chili's in St. Louis, Grandpa gave me a stinging rebuke for not studying Scripture with my wife. That day was a turning point for our marriage.
7. The Incomparable Worth of Singlemindedness. Some of Grandpa's favorite phrases were “tiger for Jesus,” “great exploits in Jesus’ name,” “there’s nothing in life outside of Jesus,” and “go hard after God.” He was a tiger for Jesus, he did great exploits' in Jesus' name, and he did go hard after God. He also eschewed normalcy. He wrote: “Your danger and mine is not that we become criminals, but rather, that we become respectable, decent, commonplace, mediocre Christians. No rewards at the end, no glory. The twenty-first-century temptations that really sap our spiritual power are the television, banana cream pie, the easy chair, and the credit card. Christian, you will win or lose in those seemingly innocent little moments of decision.”
8. Strength in Weakness. Grandpa exemplifies the counterintuitive biblical truth that when we are weak, then we are strong. He was dyslexic and therefore a very slow reader. He often felt huge waves of insecurity. He wrestled with what he called an "inferiority complex" early on in life, battling deep feelings of inadequacy. Yet God used him remarkably. Supernaturally. I believe it was not in spite of his weaknesses but because of them. They forced him to yield himself to the Lord in utter dependence. And I take much consolation in that, as a weak person myself. Grandpa knew that to say “I don’t have what it takes” is exactly what it takes.
I summarize the life of this man with Jesus' words to Peter in Matthew 16: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Grandpa lost his life. And therefore found it.
I love you, Grandpa. Thank you for exalting and enjoying Christ above all. What a work of grace he did in your life.
The joy was yours. The honor was his. The blessing is ours. I can't wait to enjoy the new earth with you.
My dad shares thoughts on his dad.
John Piper remembers his former pastor.
Posted by Dane Ortlund at Monday, July 23, 2007