Ch 11: Ready For Something Tremendous

  • Author: Mark S. Mitchell

A year after Ray Stedman retired, he returned to PBC as a guest preacher. As he taught from Ephesians, he commented on Paul's prayer that the church at Ephesus would see and understand "the hope of his calling."

"We must not look at life as the world around us does, as being all that we'll ever get, as the only chance you are going to have to find fulfillment. The world says, 'If you don't take it now, you are never going to get another chance.' I have seen that misunderstanding drive people into forsaking their marriages after thirty or forty years and running off with another, usually younger, person, hoping that they can still fulfill their dreams because they feel life is slipping away from them.

"Christians are not to think that way. We are being told that life is a school, a training period. It is where we are being prepared for something that is incredibly great, but it is yet to come. I don't understand all that is involved in that, but I believe it, and sometimes I can hardly wait until it happens.

"We are told in Scripture (and certainly our experience agrees with it) that these bodies of ours are growing old and will lose their powers. Ever since I moved to Oregon I have noted a few streaks of gray in my hair. I can tell by the way I feel, many times, that my body is losing its elasticity, its ability to function, and I grow weary and weak. I don't know why, because in my mind I don't feel that way at all. But, as I get older, I remember that it is all aimed at something tremendous which I am being readied for." (See Ray's message The Power You Already Have from September 29, 1991)

Little did Ray or the congregation know how strangely prophetic his words were that morning. Little did he know that before long he would experience that "something tremendous" that had been the goal of his life since the time he began preaching to the cows sixty-three years earlier.

Life on the Rogue

WHEN RAY RETIRED IN May of 1990, he and Elaine left Palo Alto for good and moved into the house they had renovated on the Rogue River in southern Oregon. Ray reveled in the unspoiled beauty of southwestern Oregon as he revealed in an unpublished paper entitled "Spiritual Survival":

My home is on the Rogue River in southwestern Oregon. As the river flows by my door it is a quiet, happily murmuring stream. But ten miles downstream it is a raging torrent, sweeping through the walls of Hell gate Canyon with unbelievable power and white-capped display. The varied assortment of rafters, kayakers, and boatsmen who challenge its course through the coast range have but one thought in mind--survival! A few hardy, experienced souls dare it on their own, but most rely on river-wise guides who thoroughly know the dangers, can instruct in the techniques of survival, and are able to build implicit trust in their knowledge and leadership.(Ray Stedman, "Spiritual Survival," unpublished document, undated (photocopy).)

Living on the Rogue River also brought back vivid memories of Ray's boyhood adventures in the Montana wilderness, prompting him to make a return trip to Montana" with his cousin Wendell Sheets. The two men spent five days recapturing about a ten-year period of Ray's childhood as they visited Great Falls and Winifred, where Ray attended high school, and attempted to find one of the ranches where Ray had worked during the summer. Ray took Wendell to one of his favorite spots on earth: a high desert crest overlooking the Missouri River, which Ray said was the only place in the world he had ever been that had not been polluted or corrupted in any way. He called it God's natural, unspoiled creation. They also went on to Fort Benton and Fort Shaw, following the Lewis and Clark trail into Oregon. The entire time, Ray provided Wendell with a running narrative of the history of the entire area, as if he had not been gone for some fifty years.(Wendell Sheets, interview by Susan Stedman, August 4, 1994, Grants Pass, Ore., transcript.)

Neither the passing years nor his retirement had diminished Ray's love for the outdoors and his interest in, and amazing ability to recall, historical facts. Nor did it mean the end of his ministry. Ray remained active, speaking several times at both PBC Palo Alto and PBC Cupertino, as well as continuing to teach at many retreats and conferences. He also continued to write, completing a book on John's gospel, God's Loving Word, and a commentary on the book of Hebrews, which was part of the IVP New Testament Commentary Series.

Ray also was one of the founding members of a group called the Rogue River Fellowship. Initiated by Doug Shearer, senior pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship of Sacramento, California, this group of evangelical leaders sought to address various practices and beliefs in the church. Their burden was to address such contemporary church issues as demonic deliverance, political involvement, inner healing, modern-day prophecy, and worship styles. "The name 'Rogue Fellowship' may come from the character of the participants," Shearer writes, "the character of the heterodoxies and heteropraxies we hope to define, or from the fact that we first met in Ray Stedman's house overlooking the Rogue River in Grants Pass, Oregon." (Doug Shearer, quote on The Rogue River Fellowship section; online, The Ray C. Stedman Library.) Other members of the group included Gerry E. Breshears of Western Theological Seminary; Zenas Bicket, president of Berean College; Rick Booyes, pastor of Trail Christian Fellowship; Bob Bonner, pastor of Calvary Crossroads Church; and Garry Friesen, dean of the faculty of Multnomah School of the Bible.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of Ray's ministry during retirement, however, was simply the relationships he continued to nurture with younger men. Although by now a well-known, seasoned veteran of ministry himself, Charles Swindoll still considered Ray one of his most valued mentors, as revealed in his memories of his last meeting with Ray.

"There we sat, a cluster of six. A stubby orange candle burned at the center of our table. Flickering eerie shadows crossed all our faces. One spoke; five listened. Every question was handled with such grace, such effortless ease. There was no doubt that each answer was drawn from deep wells of wisdom, shaped by tough decisions and nurtured by time. Like forty years in the same church. And seasoned by travel. Like having ministered around the world. And honed by tests, risks, heartbreaks, and failures. But, like the best wines, it was those decades spent in the same crucible year after year that made Ray's counsel invaluable. Had those years been spent in the military, he would have a chest full of medals.

"His age? Seventy-four. His face? Rugged as fifty miles of bad road. His eyes? Ah, those eyes. Piercing. When he peered at you, it was as if they penetrated to the back of your cranium. He had virtually seen it all; weathered all the flack and delights of the flock. Outlived all the fads and gimmicks of trendy generations, known the ecstasy of seeing many lives revolutionized, the agony of several lives ruined, and the monotony of a few lives remaining unchanged. He has paid his dues. And he has the scars to prove it.

What a creative visionary! "But this is not to say he's over the hill. Or to suggest that he has lost his zeal for living, his ability to articulate his thoughts, or his keen sense of humor. There we sat for well over three hours, hearing his stories, pondering his principles, questioning his conclusions, and responding to his ideas. The evening was punctuated with periodic outbursts of laughter followed by protracted periods of quiet talk. All six of us lost contact with time." (Charles Swindoll, "Of Servants and Mentors," unpublished article, n.d. (photocopy).)

Times of Restoration

ALTHOUGH RAY REMAINED ACTIVE in ministry, his primary focus in retirement became his family. For forty years Elaine had had a sense that Ray was not hers to possess, that she was called to release him to be a blessing to others. But now, together in Oregon, she and the girls felt that this husband and father was "theirs" again. Susan Stedman believes that in order for that to be possible, Ray needed to be out of the public eye.

"I saw Dad and Mom's move up here to Oregon as an attempt to move out of that position and rekindle the family bonds, to allow us to get to know each other now, past those tumultuous times, and to allow for a new, more mature relationship to develop between us. And I felt like that really happened. I saw Dad moving away from those very busy, busy years. I remember as a child. . . most of my memories of Dad are of this person in an office that I was not to disturb. . . I understand that it was necessary, that he needed that time because in order for him to do what he did he needed unbroken blocks of concentrated time to put into his studies. . . but as a child I felt like, first, my mother, and then people in the congregation were constantly keeping me from my father, and I resented it. So those last years here in Oregon with us as a family spending unrestricted time together, not just on holidays, but being able to have Mom and Dad over for dinner, just to have them all to myself. . . was a really important thing to me. It meant a tremendous amount to me." (Susan Stedman, in transcript of Wendell Sheets interview.)

These times not only meant a lot to his daughters, they also meant a good deal to Ray. Linda Stedman Teshima remembers how important it was to her father that she and her children join him on another return trip to Montana.

"It was. . . June of 1991. I had taken my boys to visit Mom and Dad at their river house in Grants Pass and I was getting ready to leave and head back to Medford. Dad and I were standing in the driveway and he asked me if I could attend a family conference in Montana that August, where he was the speaker. It was to be held at Clydehurst Ranch, which is located between Billings and Bozeman. He asked if I would bring the boys. . . . I told him I already had plans to go to Santa Barbara to visit my friends. . . . For some reason he was very insistent about me going to this conference. I was very reluctant to change my plans and told him I really couldn't see how it would work. . . . But, no matter what excuse I presented, he was very insistent about me going. Finally he took me gently by the arm and said, 'I don't know how much longer I'll be with you, Linda, and I really want you to see Montana.' At that point, I simply said, 'OK, I'll go.' Something about his plea was so sincere and so important, I couldn't say no.

"Dad paid for my travel expenses, and the kids and I packed our bags and took off in my Ford Bronco for Montana. . . . Dad flew to Montana and we met him there at Clydehurst Ranch, a beautiful family conference center located in a small canyon underneath the BIG Montana sky. Already enchanted by the rugged beauty of Montana, I knew why he wanted to share this with me and his grandchildren. But what was to come was even more special.

"Many families had come there to hear Dad teach the book of Revelation. He taught every night, the messages very similar to each chapter in his book God's Final Word. With no distractions, other than the peaceful, majestic canyon and the warm, loving atmosphere of the family camp, I felt like Dad and I were as close as we'd ever been. I was amazed at his insight into Revelation and soaked in everything he taught. We would have meals together and talk about so many things. He made sure that the kids could take any fun class they wanted, and knowing how much I love horses, he paid for all of us to have horseback rides together. He took the boys fishing--as he often did--and they even saw a bear one day that crossed the river right in front of them!

"One night, toward the end of the week, I met Dad at his cabin just before the dinner bell rang. We were sitting together on the porch, enjoying the summer Montana evening when he suddenly said to me 'Linda, Mom and I are so grateful for your restored faith in our Lord,' and then he asked me, 'Is there anything I could have done differently as a father that would have helped you girls more and kept you from straying?'

"I was so touched by his candor and vulnerability. I thought for a moment and just said, 'No, Dad, I don't think there is anything you could have done differently. We were all taught the truth, and were loved so well by you and Mom, but times were hard when we became teenagers, and the culture was so influential on our lives. We were strong-willed children, and we made a choice as to what direction we would take. You and Mom did the best you could, and now, what you taught us all makes sense and God has won us back by His kindness and grace. The Lord never let us stray too far and your prayers kept us alive, I'm sure. You have loved us unconditionally through all our years of rebellion, and that's more than any child could ask for. You never turned away from us.' He expressed regret about having to be away so much when we were young. I told him I never had a problem with that because I just knew he was doing the Lord's work, and I never questioned that. I gave him a big hug and we headed up to dinner. . . . As always, being with Dad was fascinating and fun, educational and enlightening, sweet and safe. This trip to Montana was one that was meant to be. Dad knew it. I knew it. And best of all, the Lord knew it." (Linda Stedman, e-mail to author, August 29, 2002.)

Some of Ray's most meaningful times in those later years were spent with his eleven grandchildren. Known to them as "Papa," Ray especially enjoyed fishing and boating with his grandchildren, and these outings allowed him to express his mischievous side. On one occasion, Ray attempted to take several of his grandsons on an ill-advised journey down the Rogue River in a flat-bottomed aluminum rowboat he had just purchased. Partway through the trip, after fishing, Ray forgot to pull up the as the boat started down the rapids. When the caught the bottom, the boat quickly filled with water, forcing Ray and the boys to hang on to the side of the boat for dear life. Ray calmly pulled out his pocketknife, disappeared into the water, and cut the loose. When he emerged and saw all were safely back in the boat, instead of being overjoyed by their deliverance from danger, Ray was upset about losing a fifteen-dollar !(Linda Stedman, Susan Stedman, and Stedman grandchildren, interviews by author, July 14, 2001, Grants Pass, Ore., tape recording.)

Times like these meant a great deal to Ray and his family, and probably would have been cherished even more if they had known that his days on earth were coming to an end.

Nearing the End

IN THE EARLY MONTHS of 1992, Ray began to feel increasingly tired. His appetite decreased, and he lost a great deal of weight. For a long time he resisted seeing a doctor, and when he finally did, he was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor of the kidney. Ray now had just a few months to live.

Many believe that Ray had a strong sense that he was dying even before the diagnosis. Jeanne Hendricks recalls talking with him at their annual gathering with the Stedmans, Heatons, and Ropers in the early part of 1992. "The last time we were in Mendocino with him, we were asking about his health, and he said he'd been healthy all his life, but now he had a few questions he was going to the doctor right after that. But I think, at that point, he knew in his heart that there was something wrong, something really wrong." (Jeanne Hendricks, interview by author, March 15, 2001, Gleneden Beach, Ore., tape recording.)

When Jeanne spoke with Ray on the phone after he had been to the doctor, he told her that the diagnosis was not good. It was cancer. "But his whole tone of voice," says Jeanne, "was that he knew it all along." (Ibid.)

A few weeks later, Howard received a postcard from Ray. "It brings tears to my eyes," says Howard. "It was such a gentle, loving note, and at the end he said how things were with him, and how he would have a little attack now and then, but that the Lord was in charge. Just a postcard, handwritten by Rayon both sides. Believe me I cherish that." (Howard Hendricks, interview by author, March 15,2001, Gleneden Beach, Ore, tape recording.)

Ray spent most of the last few months of his life seeing only his family, although he did have some communication with cherished friends. David Roper spoke with him several times on the phone and remembers Ray being very subdued and quiet. Luis Palau received a cherished handwritten note inside a copy of Ray's recently published commentary on Hebrews, which read, "To my dearly beloved son in the faith, with grateful memories that stretch from Argentina to the whole world. May God richly bless you and Pat and your four wonderful boys until the Sun rises and every shadow fades away." (Luis Palau, interview by author, September 9, 2002, by telephone, tape recording.)

Howard and Jeanne Hendricks visited Ray during this time and found him in good humor. He insisted that they watch a Victor Borge video together. Howard confesses that he never laughed harder in his life, and Ray was literally rolling on the floor with laughter. "It was like, the reality of heaven is coming, man, and I'm in a position to laugh--you know, I'm leaving here, baby! I remember his last words to me, 'Carry on, Howie. Carry on.''' (Howard Hendricks, interview by author.)

Just a few weeks before his death, Ray and Elaine traveled to Mexico so that Ray could undergo an experimental treatment. Ray might not have gone, but Elaine urged him to try every possible avenue to prolong his life. Although the treatment was unsuccessful, this trip turned into a sweet time for Ray and Elaine to be alone together and, in essence, to say their own special goodbyes.

When Laurie and Linda met their parents at the airport upon their return, they were grieved to see that their father was very frail and so weak that he could hardly speak. "I knew my father's days on earth were almost done," says Linda.

On October 5, 1992, Ray celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday surrounded by his family. As Elaine read to him from the many cards he had received, Ray asked, "Could we just read the rest later? I'm so tired." Elaine responded, "Oh, Ray, you have been a blessing to so many and they just want to thank you." In characteristic humility he replied, "Oh, it's so undeserved. I just did what I was sent to do." (Elaine Stedman, e-mail to author, January 22,2003.)

As a birthday gift, Ray's family gave him a new recording of Handel's Messiah, which he had always loved. Unable to get out of bed, and with his legs swollen to twice their normal size, Ray listened and 'allowed the music to bolster his spirit. When Linda reminded him that he would soon get to talk with Moses and Paul, Ray responded, "I just want to see my Jesus." (Linda Stedman, interview by author.)

Even in pain and on the brink of death, Ray did not lose his sense of humor. Just before slipping into a coma, he fell forward while being lifted up from his bed. The hospice nurse caring for him asked rhetorically, "Where are you going, Ray?" His response broke up the others in the room with laughter. "I'm going to heaven!" (Ibid.)

On October 7, Linda and Laurie were at his bedside and Linda was reading from 1 Corinthians 15:50-55 (NASB). As she read those triumphant words, "Death is swallowed up in victory. 'O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?'" she and Laurie felt a holy presence in the room. And at that moment Ray Stedman took his last deep breath and slipped away to glory. It was a fitting home going for one who for so long had anticipated this day.(Ibid.)

A few weeks after his death, the memorial service for Ray was held at PBC. Bob Roe, Ray's good friend and fellow elder, gave the eulogy. There was the joyful singing of Ray's favorite hymn, ''And Can It Be." And David Roper preached from the life of Elijah, comparing Ray to Elijah, for both had lived according to unseen realities. Then, as had been the practice in the days of Body Life, the microphone was passed around and many of Ray's sons in the faith shared what Ray meant to them. One of these men, Brian Morgan, who had also worked alongside Ray as a pastor, read a moving poem he had written in Ray's honor:

O Ray,

you were the good scribe
who took out of your treasure
things old and made them new,
as glorious as Emmaus!

You were the loving disciple
whose warmth could disarm
the most awkward legalist; and rebuild
from that ancient rubble a heart of flesh.

You were our bright illumined star,
the Luther of our generation,
with earthly genius removing the papal scepter,
and fearing none,
returned it to the saints.

No rank of man was able to stand
before your penetrating eye;
nor was there a garrison strong enough
to protect one's heart from your piercing gaze.

You were the orphan of old
who sang in Adullam,
and in that cave gathered
the outcasts of a new age.

You transformed us
by the simplicity
of the Sacred page,
into a multitude of royal sons.

Now we say, ''Everything from Him,
nothing from us!"
Yes, any old clay pot will do,
but it first must be broken.

And in the end, when you could have it all,
when all others were playing the role of King,
you arose and said, ''It shall not be so among you. "
And taking your towel, sat down as a brother.

Now the dream of life is over,
morning of eternity doth succeed,
Away the shadows of time to eternal substance--Yeshuah.

And while we remain, our tears
shall bear constant witness
that it was you who faithfully taught us
The New Covenant.
We love you, Papa.

(Brian Morgan, quoted in Joanie Burnside, ''A Stone's Throw," 15.)

The service was concluded by Howard Hendricks, who had journeyed with Ray since their days at Dallas Seminary, giving the benediction before a bagpipe solo of ''Amazing Grace." A fitting way to bid farewell to the Scotsman from Montana.

A Faithful Steward

HOW SHOULD RAY STEDMAN be remembered? When he was seventy-three and one of his daughters reminded him of all that he had accomplished in his those years, he turned to her and said, "I just wanted to be a faithful steward." And it is those words that are engraved on his gravestone in Grants Pass, Oregon: "He was a faithful steward."

Yes, Ray Stedman was, above all else, a faithful steward. He was the steward of a family. His willingness to offer up to the Lord his own wounded past of abandonment, refusing to play the victim, and somehow receive back a more tenacious and redemptive love for his own wife and four daughters is one of his greatest but least recognized accomplishments. He was the steward of a ministry. His legacy of investing in young men, who today are proud to call him their spiritual father, is unsurpassed. He was a steward of the truth. His commitment to the church as the body of Christ, and to the reality of "Christ in you" as described in his teaching on the New Covenant, truths that he felt the church needed to recover, continues to bear fruit today. Above all, he was a steward of the Scriptures. His model of faithful exposition, while serving for over forty years in the same church, is increasingly rare.

A few years before he died, Ray reflected candidly on the ministry God had entrusted to him years earlier. "Thirty-five years ago this year I came as a pastor to Peninsula Bible Church. I didn't realize it at the time, but, looking back now, I must confess that I was motivated more by personal ambition than any other thing. I thought I was dedicated to the work of the Lord, and to some degree I was. But, on reflection, I can see how much of it came from an urge to be a well-known pastor, to make a name as a Christian leader, to see an effective ministry begin with a great congregation. Through these thirty-five years, through much pain and struggle, those dreams have been fulfilled. But I want to tell you this: They do not mean very much to me right now! As I look back, what means more to me are the hundreds of lives that have been changed as people heard the Word of truth. . . . Homes have been revitalized, marriages have been restored, young people have been turned from hurtful and destructive practices, such as drug addiction, alcoholic abuse, false doctrines, and led into purity, and righteousness.

"I think of the great number of printed messages that have gone out to the far corners of the earth, and the hundreds of letters that keep coming back telling of dramatic, life-altering circumstances that have come out of reading these messages. I want to tell you, that is not my work, nor is it the work of anybody associated with us here, loyal and helpful as they have been. That is the work of Jesus, His mighty work, conducted from the throne of power at the right hand of the Majesty on high, carried out through the Spirit by means of willing men and women who saw themselves in the same relationship to Him as He is to the Father: 'You in me and I in you.' That is the greatest truth in the Bible." (Ray Stedman, "The Cure for Heart Trouble," sermon preached on March 17, 1985; online, The Ray C. Stedman Library, Discovery Paper #3868.)

Title: Ch 11: Ready For Something Tremendous Author: Mark S. Mitchell
   Date:2004
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