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.”
--Hebrews 13:7

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.

21 July 2007

Gospelized Boasting

I needed this today, as I prepare to start this phd--

Thus says the LORD: "Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who practices steadfast love [hesed], justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, says the LORD.
--Jeremiah 9:23-24

The word "understands" is better translated "looks at" or "ponders" or "considers." Don't "look at" your own wisdom, might, etc. but at the wisdom, might and riches of God (all 3 are lavishly ascribed to God in the doxology at the end of Romans 11). Which is, isn't it, the gospel? Seeing that the problem is inside us and the solution outside us, rather than, as the world and the flesh whisper to us, the problem outside us and the solution inside us (as Al Mohler put it)?

Thank you for this needed and happy rebuke, Lord. I testify to your unending wisdom, triumphant might, and unfathomable riches.

A Word of Caution

"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--'saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire' (1 Cor. 3:15)!

"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.

"Pray this with me: 'Lord, make my life a miracle!'"

(Ray/Anne Ortlund, 'Lord, Make My Life a Miracle,' 130-31)

20 July 2007

Fire Fall Down @ Passion 07 (C. Tomlin)


"Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart."

--Jeremiah 15:16

14 July 2007

Psalm 138

" . . . great is the glory of the LORD. For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar."

A reminder to me that God's glory is not bound up so much in his greatness--omnipotence, infinitude, etenality--but in the fact that, being these things, he deigns to shower his silly creatures with grace upon grace.

At a recent Christian event I heard a wonderful message by a well-known evangelical speaker on the greatness of God, in consideration of the stars and galaxies and the size of God and his universe. An awesome reminder of an important and awe-inspiring truth! But it was a decapitated message, because God is not glorious mainly because he is great but because in that greatness he is good, when he has every reason to turn the shoulder and vaporize us.

I have learned this mainly from Jonathan Edwards. He wrote of this in many places, such as:

"But especially are the beams of Christ's glory infinitely softened and sweetened by his love to men, the love that passeth knowledge. The glory of his person consists, pre-eminently, in that infinite goodness and grace, of which he made so wonderful a manifestation in his love to us." (Hickman's ed. of Works: I, clxxxii, in a letter to a bereaved woman)

Elsewhere he writes: "When infinite goodness is joined with greatness, it renders it a glorious and adorable greatness. ("The Excellency of Christ," Works: I, 688).

Last summer in Switzerland I discovered that Calvin agreed: "There is no honoring of God unless his mercy be acknowledged, upon which alone it is founded and established." (Institutes: 3.16.3)

Let us humbly acknowledge the unsurpassed glory of the Lord today, wherever we may be, "founded and established" on his inexplicable mercy to wretches like you and like me.

01 July 2007

Counterintuitive Christianity

Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.
--Ps 126:5-6

This morning I read this, and was reminded of this theme which runs all through the Bible concerning the absolutely counterintuitive nature of authentic faith, in which up leads down and down up, in which poverty leads to wealth and wealth to poverty, in which weakness leads to strength and strength may prove, in the end, only to be weakness.

But Moses said to the LORD, "Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue." --Exo. 4:10

And Gideon said to him, "Please Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the weakest in my father's house." --Judg. 6:15

One gives freely, yet grows all the richer;
another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. --Prov. 11:24

Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth." --Jer. 1:6

"For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." --Matt. 16:25

"But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all." --Mark 10:43-44

For when I am weak, then I am strong. --2 Cor. 12:10

. . . were made strong out of weakness . . . --Heb. 11:34

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. --Jam. 4:10