Monday, September 7, 2009

Tribute to Ray Ortlund

My friend Ray Ortlund, Jr. turns 60 years old today. I just wanted to wish him a Happy Birthday and share with my readers what an exceptional man he is.

A couple of years ago as Element was fresh into independence as a church plant, I was praying desperately for gospel-centered reformation in the Nashville area. Specifically, I was praying God might identify for me a pastor I could approach that might be able to mentor me. There are a lot of churches in the Nashville area. A lot. But gospel deficiency is epidemic in this heart of the Bible Belt. Not long after I'd begun praying about these matters, I saw that Ray was planting Immanuel Church. Visiting their new website I saw the public invite for anyone to contact Ray about meeting for a cup of coffee. I saw my opening. :-)

Here's what those who know Ray personally know about the guy: he stinks of Jesus. Ray is one of those guys who just has "the hotline." You can see it in the way he reflects, the way he pauses, the way he looks away for brief seconds when he talks to you, and then the way he looks you in the eye like no other man ever has. Ray is the realest deal I may have ever met.

For a guy with multiple degrees, decades in the pastorate, published books (including commentaries and contributions to the new ESV Study Bible), and friendships with guys like Piper and Mahaney,, there is zero pretense in Ray Ortlund, Jr. He is humble, sweet, and bewilderingly passionate.

We started what we called a "gospel group" for pastors. It was just us and a couple of other guys meeting once a month to "gospel" each other. Ray would read to us from Luther or Edwards or from his father, Ray Ortlund Sr., who has written a lot of wise things about revival and church ministry. At one of these meetings Ray just told us about his friend Jesus, and the physical descriptions and details of Jesus' personality -- he laughs loudly, he is 12 feet tall, he loves children and will bypass adults to play with them, etc. -- did not sound like fanciful fiction. It sounded like Ray hangs out with Jesus a lot. I think the rest of us just sort of sat there with our mouths open.

When you meet with Ray he builds you up like nobody. He once told me what an impression Romans 12:10 made on him and as if to prove it, every time we met thereafter he spent telling me how awesome I am. But -- and this is the God's honest truth -- I never left feeling puffed up. I left feeling built up, approved of by God in spite of my idiocy because a man of God made it his sole purpose to encourage me. Inspired by Journey Church's radical hospitality to Immanuel Church in their time of need, Ray and Immanuel Church came to Element's rescue when our meeting space was denied us 3 weeks before our planned return to weekly worship at the end of a summer. Ray and Immanuel really showed us what it means for congregations to live the Body of Christ with each other.

Immanuel Church recently joined the Acts 29 Church Planting Network. I just think it's awesome that all these young turk church planting dudes get to experience brotherhood with the 60 years young Ray Ortlund. If they find their relationship with him even half a blessing than the one I have, it will still be a world of blessing.

I am thankful for Ray Ortlund. I'm thankful for his friendship and guidance, for his example and his experience. And I'm praying his tribe increases, bringing the good news to the "older brothers" of the Bible Belt, to their prodigals, and to the glory of God in the redemptive return of all tongues and tribes in America and beyond.

Happy Birthday, Ray.


Josh Crews said...

I'm so glad Ray and Jani are in Nashville. I now know of one place in Nashville where the gospel of Jesus Christ will be preached clearly, humbly, and strongly invitationally as its found the scriptures.

I hope in this next decade they reproduce a new generation of Jesus lovers here in Nashville.

Jonathan McIntosh said...


Happy Birthday Ray!

salguod said...

I've subscribed to his feed for some time, but I just bumped it to my 'daily' list because of this. Besides, he's got a Lovin' Spoonful video up, so that means he has to be awesome. :-D

Eric said...

Having grown up with the man, I can testify that everything in this post - and more - is completely true.