Thanks to God for Ray Ortlund

This is a note of deep gratitude and tribute for the life of Raymond Ortlund Sr., who went to be with Jesus on Sunday evening, July 22, 2007. You can read the life facts in the news post and see a personal post from his family. But here is why I must say a word of public thanks.

In 1968 I had just come to Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California. I was naïve theologically and foolish in my attitudes to the Lord’s greatest institution, the local church. I was still single and actually pondered – you are free to laugh out loud – whether there was a future for the local church. I was disillusioned with much of it and would walk the streets of Pasadena Sunday morning wondering how I could love the word of God so much and be so uncertain about the church. This was an absurd position and wholly owing to my lack of Biblical grounding and my small faith. I am ashamed of those attitudes and questions.

I married Noel in December of 1968, one semester into my seminary days. Suddenly I was a married man. That sobers one’s view of life. I must take my wife to church somewhere. By grace we found ourselves in Lake Avenue Congregational Church where Ray Ortlund Sr. was the preaching pastor. I was stunned. Not because he was a great preacher. He was, in fact, a very good preacher. But what stunned me was his manifest love for the church and his overflowing joy in the privilege of being an undershepherd of Jesus Christ for the sake of his body. He simply loved doing what he did.

I had never seen any pastor so manifestly thrilled to be called into the service of the church. Under his ministry for the next three years I fell in love with Christ more deeply and with his church. These two are married and no man shall separate them. Reject the church and you reject Christ. I had been saved from a laughable and horrific trajectory.

So here I give thanks to God for Ray Ortlund. In the course of those three years he took me and others under his wing and met with us many times for pastoral counsel. He stayed in touch through his deacons for the next seven years, and when my graduate studies were over in Germany and I had my first call to teach Biblical Studies at Bethel College, I sought ordination to the Gospel Ministry at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena. That ordination happened under Ray’s leadership in July of 1975. His signature stands high on my Ordination Certificate, the only certificate or diploma that has ever hung on my wall.

I love you, Ray Ortlund. Thank you for filling that word “love” with so much flesh and blood reality as I watched you do it for Christ and his bride. Your death makes me want to finish well.

See you soon,

John Piper

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.