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.


ErinOrtlund said...

Great list Dane! I've linked to you on my blog (and copied the photo!)

I remember when I first met Grandpa in Georgia at John and Krista's wedding. I told him I had read some of his books and he said, "Well, Erin, someone's got to read them!" He was so humble.

nancyguthrie said...

What a beautiful tribute to your grandfather as I knew you would write. It so captures the remarkable man I've admired for so long.

And what a legacy of love for Jesus he has left behind in his children and grandchildren. I see his love for Jesus in your dad and in you and your siblings. Thank you for going hard after God yourself.

Nancy Guthrie

Anonymous said...

Hi Dane-

we've not met- I am Beth Anne's (the daughter of Walt and Sherry) husband, Dan van Voorhis-

We were with Ray hours before he went to glory-

He counseled us before we were married- and (living close now) we saw him and anne regularly...

Your post was poignant- I'm sure we could all come up with the ways he helped us- yours was a thoughtful reminder- thank you

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your tribute to your Grandpa. We haven't met, but you know my husband Clay through the seminary. I've known of your grandparents since childhood, through your grandmother's books, Disciplines of a Beautiful Woman being one of the first books on Christian living that my Mom suggested to me in adolescence or early teens. So, she is a sentimental favorite of mine. I'll pray that God would meet her in her grief in losing such a wonderful earthly companion and that she will rejoice in his new joy.

Warm greetings and blessings to your family!

Renae Johnson

Laurzie said...

Cousin, you made me cry mercilessly with this incredible tribute. Now I have the hiccups, Dane. So, thanks for that! Your words are heavy with meaning and heart. Your love for Christ sparkles.
We're all looking forward to being together on Friday and honoring Granddaddy familially. Hugs until then,

Anonymous said...

Dear Dane,
Love the tribute! Your words about Ray Sr's humility remind me of the only time I ever met your Ortlund grandparents. A friend and I had arranged to have lunch with them at a Worship Conference in Ft. Worth, Texas. As the four of us approached the dining room at Southwestern Seminary, Ray said to Anne: "Now make sure you get everything you can out of them!" ~~ As if there was something of worth Anne (nearly 80) could possibly learn from me (in my mid- thirties!)
Your family is amazing ~~ a living reminder of how near Heaven really is.
My love, thoughts and prayers are with you all.
Deepest Peace,
Debbie Berghuis

Matthew S. Harmon said...


So sorry to hear of your grandfather's passing. You are so blessed to have a godly heritage to draw such lessons from. May god manifest his presence to you and your family in rich and comforting ways during this time of sorrow over his passing but joy over his faithful life.

Anonymous said...

I don't know your family but feel as if I do because of your grandmother Anne's wonderful books. Some years ago I was going through a dark time when I felt as if God had turned His back on me. I stopped attending church and reading my Bible, even going so far as to give away my large collection of Christian books by such authors as Billy and Ruth Graham and Catherine Marshall. I was so bitter at God I could taste it. Then a friend gave me a copy of "Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman." I thought, who IS this Anne Ortlund? I've never heard of her! To please my friend, I began to skim through the book, but then started over and read every word. Through its pages I met a lovely woman who seemed to live and breathe the love of Jesus. I wanted what she had! I realized that God had not turned His back on me at all, He was just waiting for me to come to Him stripped of pride, jealousy, and the anger that had festered for years inside me. He had so much to teach me, but I had to be willing to learn. I started reading my Bible again and this time the words seemed to leap from the page. Verses I had heard all my life took on new meaning. I read more of Anne's books and soon signed up for a women's Bible study at church. I found a Christian counselor and began to work on the anger that had chipped away at my soul since childhood. I credit Anne's books with getting me back on track. Now if I could just get back all those books I gave away!!

Sherry said...

I feel like I know your grandparents, because their books have been such a significant part of my life. what a wonderful heritage you have, Dane! And what a beautiful tribute you wrote. I'm sure you made them proud and that you blessed them. God bless you.