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God gave me a great dad.  He was the finest man I’ve ever known — and the best pastor, and the best preacher, by far.  I drew strength from his love for me.  I miss him today.  I miss him every day.

Here are some reasons why I honor him.  And these are just for starters.

Dad came to all my high school football games, and even to some practices.  My friends noticed.  I noticed.  I knew I mattered to him.  I wasn’t a “priority” in his schedule.  I was his son.  He liked watching me play football.  I liked him watching me play football.  We enjoyed it together.

He set me free to pursue God’s call on my life.  He guided me in appropriate ways, but he did not fearfully cling to me or hope I would always live nearby.  Just the opposite.  He urged me to follow Christ anywhere.  Now and then he’d make this speech: “I don’t care if you’re a ditch-digger, as long as you love the Lord with all your heart.”  He was not at all impressed with worldly success and going to the right schools and all that pretense and bluff.  He wanted something better for me, something I had to find on my own.  But I never doubted now urgently he desired it for me.  And I did find it, partly because my dad didn’t intrude himself into it but cheered me on as I figured things out for myself.

I remember going downstairs early one morning and walking in on my dad in the living room.  There he was, on his knees, his face buried in his hands, absorbed in silent prayer.  He didn’t know anyone else was up.  So it wasn’t for show.  It was real.  My dad had a real walk with God.  It never occurred to me, not once, to wonder what mattered most to my dad.  It never occurred to me to wonder if Jesus was the Lord of his heart and of our home.  Dad revered the Bible.  He loved the gospel.  He served the church.  He witnessed to our neighbors.  He tithed when he couldn’t afford it.  He set the tone of our home, and our home was a place of joy, honesty and comfort.  Jesus was there.

One day when I was 11 or 12, while we were doing yard work out front — I can’t remember the context — but my dad stopped, looked me in the eyes and said, “You know, Bud, before time began, God chose you.”  I was floored.  Almighty God thought of tiny me?  Way back then?  I felt so loved by God.  Years later, when I became aware of the doctrine of election as such, I had no problem with it.  I loved it.  My dad had begun my theological education in my boyhood in the course of everyday conversation.

My mom told me once that dad had a practice as he came home at the end of each day.  He worked hard throughout the day.  He came home tired.  His blood sugar was low.  So as he walked up the back steps, before he reached out to open the back door, he would lift a simple prayer to God, “Lord, I need some extra energy right now.”  And God answered those prayers.  I never saw my dad walk in with no positive emotion to give.  Instead, he’d walk over to my mom, kiss her with a borderline embarrassing big kiss, and then he’d turn to me and say, “Come on, Skip, let’s wrestle!”  And we’d go out to the front room and wrestle on the floor and tickle and laugh and have a blast.

The Lord put his hand on my dad’s ministry.  Sure, he went through hard times.  He was accused of ridiculous things by crazy people.  But he trusted God and kept going.  And the Lord owned his ministry with obvious manifestations of divine favor.  There were even times when dad was unable to finish his sermon there at Lake Avenue Church, because the Holy Spirit was so moving on the people that they were going into prayer and repentance.  It was never forced or fake.  It was the Lord, adding his unusual blessing to the ministry of “a vessel for honorable use.”

I honor my dad today, with thanks to God.

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13 thoughts on “Stories of my dad”

  1. Kimberley says:

    Thank you so much for this, Ray. Your blogging has encouraged me through so much these past few years. It continues to be my favorite place to go for my joy in the gospel. Happy Father’s Day.

  2. Sharon Richardson says:

    I knew your dad as a young girl growing up in New York State. He was pastor of a church there. A humble profound leader who loved God and people. He lived his sermons out in compassion and we all saw it. I understand more now about God choosing me before time began. What a thrill to see how Ray Ortland taught that to you at home!

  3. Nancy Guthrie says:

    Oh, what a great man of God. So grateful for his legacy in your life and so many, many others.

  4. What a great tribute. I can’t wait to meet him in heaven.

  5. John Drake says:

    Bud — your Dad was a wonderful man of God (so was your Mom) . Your Dad officiated at my last marriage (also my first & only) 32 years ago this year. I still remember his comments at the ceremony. Still relevant and true today.

  6. Sandie Keenan says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your Dad, a man God used to model Christ in your life. Example is a wonderful teacher, isn’t it?

  7. I first met your dad when Hugh Bells dad ask me if I wanted to do the sound & record the AM service for him. As a result of that job and First Mate Bob’s funeral, I went to Haven of Rest where we continued our relationship during that period. We also did some five minute spots which didn’t last very long as I remember. At 82, only one of the many great men I’ve had the privilege working with over the years.

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  9. What a wonderful example and exactly the type of man who could say as Paul did in I Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” How grateful we all are for his life, used as a vessel, poured out and sweet. Generations are blessed for it.

  10. Wayne MacKirdy says:

    Ray was my first pastor! I had given and received my fair share of bumps and bruises when I came to Christ at the age of 29…he truly was God’s gift to my life!

  11. Jon perera says:

    I attended Lake Avenue as a child and I still remember your dad. Thank you for sharing spurring me on to leave the same legacy for my children . Love your blog on TGC . May God continue to keep and bless you !

  12. Sanchez says:

    Thank you for sharing that story of your father. Your father seemed like a great man and dad.

    A father can have such an impact on your life. I only wish my father was more present in my life.
    I am going through so many struggles that my father never prepared me for – unplanned pregnancies,
    struggles with my identity, alopecia and so much more.

    God give us the grace to be fathers like your father, Ray.

  13. Ralph says:

    I remember hearing your dad in the mid-60s at Lake Avenue Congregational Church. His ministry left an indelible imprint on my heart and mind. He spoke clearly, humbly, and with great conviction about the Christian Life. Keswick Week was especially memorable at Lake Avenue.

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Ray Ortlund

Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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