Tom Elliff
Oklahoma City, OK

After pastoring for forty-two years, Tom Elliff served the International Mission Board, first as Senior Vice President for Spiritual Nurture and Church Relations from 2005-2009, then as President from 2011-2014. Tom served pastorates in Arkansas, Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma and as an IMB missionary in Zimbabwe. Tom also served as president of the SBC Pastor's Conference and two terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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Babe & The Fear Of God

By on October 30, 2010

Almost eleven years ago, Jeannie informed me she wanted a Beagle for her upcoming birthday, explaining that she was giving me plenty of notice so we’d get just the right dog. Since we were on vacation at the time, I called our daughter, Beth, in Oklahoma City and asked if she could track down a Beagle for her mother. It took Beth several weeks to find a Beagle expensive enough, but finally she located a prospective puppy in a neighboring state (which I am loathe to mention until football season is over).

Three weeks later, Jeannie and a couple of our grandkids went down to fetch the eight week old puppy, which she immediately named “Elliff’s Beautiful Babe” for the sake of the AKC, or just “Babe” for those commoners like the rest of us who have little regard for pedigree. The rest, as they say, is history.

I want to let you in on a secret. Babe loves Jeannie, but she absolutely, positively, one hundred and ten percent adores me. I like her too! When I arrive home, having been away for ten days or ten minutes, Babe goes nuts, running full tilt toward me and howling at the top of her lungs. I, of course, greet her in a proper and dignified manner. Jeannie asked me the other day why I didn’t show as much excitement when I greet her. I told her that if she’d howl every time I scratched her behind the ears, I’d think about it.

Babe has taught me a lot of good theology over the years. You will recall that one of the Greek words for “worship,” (proskuneo) has in it the root for our English word ”canine.” Recently, while out on a walk with Babe, I was reflecting on what it means to fear the Lord.

The Bible has quite a bit to say about the fear of the Lord, not the least of which is that the fear of the Lord is the very beginning of wisdom (See Proverbs 1:7, for example). But what does it mean to fear the Lord? Surely it must not mean that we are to cower before Him as a slave would before a master. And somehow, the word “reverance” just doesn’t seem to convey all that is intended. Here’s where Babe helped me.

Babe loves me, adores me, and sometimes seems to worship me. But she doesn’t fear me in the Bible’s sense of the word. The primary evidence that Babe doesn’t fear me is that I still must use a leash when we go out on our daily inspection of the neighborhood. If Babe really feared me there’s be no need for the leash. She’d be beside me at all times, just like some other dogs that we see as we walk along.

You see, in spite of her love for me, Babe doesn’t have such a large idea of who I am that she just totally surrenders her will to mine. “Look Master!” she yelps as she lunges toward the garbage truck which she thinks she is chasing out of the neighborhood so we can sleep safely. “Back here, Master!” she tugs, digging in her heels in an attempt to get me to pause so she can inspect a rotting bird carcass. ”Yum! You will like this I’m sure.” After eleven years she’s bound to know I’m not afraid of the truck, and I only like freshly harvested birds. But she hasn’t gotten the picture!

Undeterred, I hold a firm hand on the leash and trudge forward, just thinking how much more fun we could have together if Babe really feared me, in the biblical sense. Then we could walk together with no need of restraint; longer, unrestrained walks with total abandonment to my will.

I like the picture of the Lord speaking with Abraham as He and two angels set their faces toward Sodom (Genesis 18:17) ”Shall I hide from Abraham what I’m about to do…?” In other words, as they walked together, Abraham evidenced such a fear of the Lord (such a big picture of the Lord) that the He was eager to let Abraham in on His plans. Before they parted company, Abraham successfully interceded for Lot and his family. When we walk in the fear of the Lord, He shares His intimacies with us, allowing us to take His hand as we walk through the days allotted to us. We live in joyful, effective cooperation as opposed to constantly tugging at the leash.

Like the Psalmist, I’m praying that the Lord will “enlarge my heart.” I want such a big picture of God that I’m not tempted to run ahead of Him, or lag behind. Of course, as I’ve said before, if I could just get to the place where all I want for my life is all God wants for my life, then all my life I’d have all I want. And God will have all of me He wants. But getting to that place is a life-long journey!

At least that’s what Babe taught me today.

She’ll be happy to enroll you in her school of obedience.

Just as soon as I graduate.

Rejoice evermore!

Tom Elliff

2 Tim 1:12