/ Barry York

Through the Valley

The following post is largely based on a recent memorandum I sent to friends of Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary. This post is an important update regarding fellow Gentle Reformation author, Dr. Jeff Stivason (RPTS Professor of New Testament Studies and Pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA) written to encourage prayer for him, his wife Tab, and their children Nathan and Abby.

One of the greatest joys I experience in my service at RPTS is friendship with my fellow professors. Drs. Gamble, Stivason, Whitla, and Williams are not only wonderfully gifted pastors and teachers who serve so faithfully at the seminary; they are also dear friends whose company I treasure. Recently, after a faculty meeting, the five of us went out to a nearby restaurant and enjoyed a meal together. I praise the Lord that we have a sincere affection for one another and can enjoy true fellowship. Yet I write to draw your attention to what one of our professors is currently journeying through.

Dr. Jeff Stivason’s dear wife, Tab, was diagnosed last year with breast cancer. Following an initial round of chemo that was very difficult for Tab, she had surgery in October. Due to the effects of the initial treatment combined with already existing health challenges, the decision was made to forego further treatment. Sadly, the cancer has spread, and Jeff and Tab realize that her days left on earth are quite limited. Throughout this journey, they have continued to bow their heads to the Lord’s will.

On March 14, a surprise party to honor Jeff’s 30 years of pastoral ministry was hosted by the Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church where Jeff serves as pastor. Behind the scenes, Tab, with the help of a few friends, organized this beautiful evening. The anniversary of Jeff’s ordination is later this year, but Tab wanted to hold the event at this time so she could be present. Many other friends and coworkers of Jeff joined the members of Grace RPC at the celebration. Several fellow pastors, elders at Grace, an RPTS professor, and Jeff’s special friend, Carl Trueman, shared anecdotes and appreciation for Jeff’s service through so many years. Yet it was the mention of Tab’s love and how she has faithfully been by Jeff’s side through all these years that caused the whole assembly to rise and give a standing ovation. Despite her illness and weariness, Tab beamed with joy that whole blessed evening.

Jeff was inaugurated as a professor at RPTS in September 2020. In a charge I gave to him that night, I referenced his theological hero whose portrait hangs over his desk at RPTS – the great Princeton scholar, B.B. Warfield. I reminded Jeff that Dr. Warfield had to arrange his life and ministry around the care of his wife who had serious health issues. As even then Tab was struggling with health matters, after referencing Warfield’s example, I said to him in part, “Remember whose bride the church is, and then remember who your bride is. Keep loving her well as Christ loves His bride well.” During this difficult season in the Stivason home, we are seeing Jeff reflect His Savior in this regard.

This situation is greatly impacting the Grace congregation and the RPTS community. Important conversations regarding suffering are taking place. More prayers and tears flow these days. The Scriptures speak with a fresh power in chapel services and the classroom. A quiet humility has fallen upon the campus. Once again, the Lord is reminding all of us how frail we are, how short this vapor-like life truly is, how dependent on Christ we are, and how our eyes must be kept on Him and the eternal rest He offers.  In short, Jeff and Tab are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, and we are experiencing with them the promise of that most familiar of all psalms: the Lord, our Good Shepherd, is with us (Ps. 23:4).

Just yesterday as I write these words, Jeff arranged a time in their home for members of the congregation to come and greet Tab, possibly saying their last goodbye. Jeff invited Miriam and me as well. The Lord blessed us with a beautiful, sunny Sabbath afternoon as people lined up outside to be brought into their home. Their eighteen-year-old daughter, Abby, greeted us and explained the process. She told us that morning Tab had been unable to talk, but the interactions with people had strengthened her mom. When each of us went into their living room, Tab was seated on the couch and, though quite tired, was able to converse. She continues to shine with the joy of the Lord through her weakness.

Please pray for Jeff and Tab and their family, as well as the Grace congregation and the RPTS community. Pray also that the lessons the Lord desires to impress upon the future shepherds of His people through this time would be learned.

Samuel Rutherford, another of Jeff’s heroes and the man after whom the main RPTS building is named, once wrote, “If your Lord calls you to suffering, do not be dismayed, for He will provide a deeper portion of Christ in your suffering. The softest pillow will be placed under your head though you must set your bare feet among thorns. Do not be afraid at suffering for Christ, for He has a sweet peace for a sufferer.” As we pray, may the Lord provide that deeper portion, that softest pillow, and that sweet peace to our friends.

Barry York

Barry York

Sinner by Nature - Saved by Grace. Husband of Miriam - Grateful for Privilege. Father of Six - Blessed by God. President of RPTS - Serve with Thankfulness. Author - Hitting the Marks.

Read More